Forum: Pofma: Can the distinction between fact and opinion be clarified?

Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer had implied in a Nov 13 post that the Government controls Temasek's and GIC's commercial decisions, which is false, the Government said on its fact-checking website Factually. PHOTO: GOV.SG
Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer had implied in a Nov 13 post that the Government controls Temasek's and GIC's commercial decisions, which is false, the Government said on its fact-checking website Factually. PHOTO: GOV.SG

Recently, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) was used for the first time over a Facebook post by Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer, who was commenting on investments by GIC, Temasek and other government-linked companies (PSP member asked to correct post in 1st use of fake news law, Nov 26).

This incident has generated much discussion among my peers. As young Singaporeans who frequently read and share online content, Pofma affects how we interact with certain media. I agree that there is a need to address the spread of false statements of fact.

That said, I still have some confusion about how Pofma can be used. The Government's Factually website explains that the law applies only to online falsehoods and not opinions: "You will not get into trouble for sharing criticisms, as they are opinions and not statements of fact."

Yet I am unsure of the difference between an opinion and a statement of fact, especially after reading Mr Bowyer's post. One part that has come under scrutiny from Pofma seems like an opinion to me.

When speaking about the Amaravati project, Mr Bowyer stated that $4 billion was "dumped" into Andhra Pradesh.

In response to this, a Nov 25 notice on Factually says: "There are implicit factual assertions that… $4 billion has been poorly invested ('dumped') by Government-linked companies and related parties in Andhra Pradesh."

In a CNA938 interview on Dec 2, Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah also described Mr Bowyer's statement as an "allegation that $4 billion was poorly invested".

The point of contention appears to centre on how "poorly" the funds were invested - a qualitative assessment that is implicit in the verb "dumped". This assessment seems like an opinion of the quality of the investment and not a fact that can be objectively measured. If this is indeed an opinion and not a statement that can be true or false, I am unsure how Pofma would apply to it.

It would be very helpful if the distinction between fact and opinion when it comes to Pofma could be clarified further.

Avantika Narayan