Coronavirus: Govt invokes fake news law against false claims by States Times Review

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong instructed the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act Office to issue corrections against "multiple false statements" in a post that STR put up on Feb 13, 2020.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong instructed the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act Office to issue corrections against "multiple false statements" in a post that States Times Review put up on Feb 13, 2020.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The States Times Review (STR) Facebook page was on Friday (Feb 14) ordered under the fake news law to put up corrections alongside false statements it made about the coronavirus outbreak.

This is the second order issued against STR under the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act (Pofma) for bogus claims about the coronavirus crisis. STR had earlier falsely claimed that Singapore ran out of face masks.

To date, the law has been used to deal with four cases of falsehoods related to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, known as Covid-19.

On Friday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong instructed the Pofma Office to issue corrections against "multiple false statements" in a post that STR put up the day before.

The post, which was about the 30,000 Chinese work pass holders who have not returned to Singapore, was shared more than 300 times.

Among the erroneous claims were that Singapore had not been able to trace the source of infection for any of the infected Covid-19 cases here.

The Government described the claims made by STR as "entirely false", and rebutted them point by point in a statement on its fact-checking website, Factually.

On the source of infections, the statement said the Ministry of Health (MOH) had in fact established through epidemiological investigations and contact tracing that 51 out of the 58 people infected with the virus either had travelled to China or come from there, or had links to previously announced cases.

Contact tracing is under way for the remaining seven locally transmitted cases, to see if there are similar links or travel history to China.

The STR had also said the Government is "the only one" telling people not to wear masks.

This is not true, as the MOH's advice is in line with the World Health Organisation's guidance, and similar to advice given by health authorities in countries such as the United States and Australia, said the government statement.

 
 
 

MOH's advice is that there is no need for people who are well to wear a mask, but those with respiratory symptoms should don one to minimise the risk of infecting others.

STR made two other false claims about the daily $100 allowance for workers on a leave of absence, and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo's remarks about Chinese workers.

Rebutting the claims, the Government said Chinese work pass holders placed on a mandatory 14-day leave of absence "do not receive the $100 daily support".

Though the Leave of Absence Support Programme covers all workers, regardless of nationality, it is employers that receive the support, it added.

These employers must have workers who travelled to China on or before Jan 31 this year, and who were placed on leave of absence after returning to Singapore on or after Jan 31.

The Government also made clear that Mrs Teo never said she was working hard to bring more Chinese workers back to Singapore.

On the contrary, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) has put in measures to slow down the return of affected work pass holders, like requiring employers to get prior approval before their workers can return, said the statement. It has also rejected more applications than it has approved.

The STR had also said seven countries have since banned travel to Singapore due to lack of confidence in the measures taken so far to curb the spread of the virus.

But as of 8pm on Thursday, there have been no such bans by any countries, said the Government.

 

The STR Facebook page is run by Singaporean Alex Tan, who has received three Pofma orders so far since the laws against misinformation kicked in last October. He has not complied with any of the orders, and said he is now an Australian citizen.

Besides issuing a correction order to Mr Tan, the Pofma Office also issued a Targeted Correction Direction to Facebook on Friday, requiring the social media company to put up the corrections on the STR post.

The office had done the same in previous Pofma cases involving STR.

The Government also advised people to get the latest updates on the Covid-19 situation from official sources such as the MOH website and Gov.sg WhatsApp service, and to report any suspected falsehoods to info@pofmaoffice.gov.sg.