Presidential hopeful Salleh Marican acts against fake news taken from a Facebook page

Second Chance Properties CEO Mohamed Salleh Marican with his wife Sapiyah Abu Bakar after collecting application forms for this September's presidential polls at the Elections Department on June 5, 2017.
Second Chance Properties CEO Mohamed Salleh Marican with his wife Sapiyah Abu Bakar after collecting application forms for this September's presidential polls at the Elections Department on June 5, 2017.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - Presidential hopeful Salleh Marican is exploring ways to shut down a Facebook page, after an article by social news website Mothership wrongly attributed to him comments on the hijab that were found on that page.

A spokesman for Mr Salleh told The Straits Times they were alerted to the Facebook page, called Salleh Marican for President, early Monday (Aug 7) morning.

Twice, the team sent it messages, identifying themselves and inviting its owner for a chat, but received no reply.

"The next thing we did was report the page to Facebook, to tell them it does not belong to us. It is clearly campaigning for Mr Salleh, and it's illegal to start now," said the spokesman.

Election rules allow campaigning to start after nomination closes in a contested election.

While the team was waiting for a response from Facebook, Mothership posted on Tuesday (Aug 8) evening an article titled 'Presidential hopeful Salleh Marican makes his first move, brings up the hijab issue".

The piece wrongly attributed to Mr Salleh comments on the Facebook page, on how the hijab was not part of the Malay dress code before the 1970s and increasing religiosity in the Middle East and around the region has eroded Malay culture in Singapore.

This, said Mr Salleh's spokesman, was when the page's existence "crossed the line".

"When Mothership took it upon themselves to say that Mr Salleh said this, it became a reality. It became a problem. Mothership validated it," he said. "The page itself never said the comments were by Mr Salleh, but it's easy to misunderstand when the page name means that people could mistakenly think it was an official campaign page. We don't want that."

Mr Salleh's team of helpers contacted Mothership, which has since apologised and removed the article. It said in its apology that the article it published was based on a post from a page "masquerading as a fan page" for Mr Salleh.

"It turned out to be wrong, as the page is not linked to Mr Salleh's campaign efforts. We initially made corrections to the article, but eventually decided to take it down completely," said Mothership. "We are sincerely sorry for this grave error, and have also extended our deepest apologies to Mr Salleh's campaign team."

Mr Salleh's spokesman said they contacted Facebook again, after the Mothership story was posted. Facebook replied the page was a community page, and that none of the posts had been attributed to Mr Salleh, the spokesman added.

Mr Salleh's helpers are looking at what possible actions can be taken against what they called a "troll page". They have, for instance, responded to Facebook, pointing out the page has taken photos posted on Mr Salleh's own Facebook account, and used them.

The Facebook page in question has since been renamed EPPresident Singapore. A post at midnight said: "This page is in the process of being deleted by Facebook."

On Tuesday, Mr Salleh posted on his own Facebook page that the comments on the hijab attributed to him were a "low blow to my credentials as a Muslim and a disrespect to women who wear hijab".

"The intention of this fake page is obvious: To split Singaporeans on a very sensitive issue," he wrote.

His spokesman said they are also looking at whether anything more should be done about Mothership's article, which has drawn "a hundred angry comments''.

When contacted, Mothership's managing editor Chan Cheow Pong, said: "We initially corrected the article by striking the entire text out, as we knew it was pretty much wrong in its entirety.

"We wanted to be transparent in admitting to our mistake. However, we subsequently ascertained that we should delete the article and post completely, so that no one else would be mistaken in reading it, and also to protect Mr Salleh's reputation.''

He added that Mr Salleh's team has accepted its apology.