TOC resumes online publication after replacing hardware seized by police

Socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) resumed publication yesterday, after it received donations from the public to buy computer hardware needed to continue its operations.

The site suspended publication last Tuesday when police officers seized electronic equipment - including desktop computers, mobile devices and laptops - from the home of TOC chief editor Terry Xu.

The police are investigating alleged criminal defamation over a recent TOC article on comments made by MP Seah Kian Peng.

Mr Xu, who announced the resumption yesterday, wrote on the website that a fund-raising campaign would be carried out soon.

"Given the possibility that our current revenue stream may be affected, there's an immediate need to address this," he said in a phone interview with The Straits Times .

He said he expects legislation in the future to target the advertising revenue of websites "which dabble in, quote-unquote, falsehoods".

In September, a Parliamentary Select Committee tasked to find ways to fight fake news published a list of recommendations which included laws that could cut off digital advertising revenue of those who spread online falsehoods.

Mr Xu wrote that in the light of the coming general election, he was also raising money to expand his team. He runs TOC himself, with volunteer writers and editors.

"There is an urgent need to ensure that the publication is able to run even with me behind bars, especially during the election period," he wrote on the website.

Since news of the police investigation broke last Tuesday, Mr Xu said the website had attracted about 20 new subscribers via content subscription service Patreon.

The newcomers add another US$200 (S$270) every month to the $1,200 TOC gets each month. This revenue is used to pay for site hosting and freelance writers.

The article over which TOC is being investigated was published on Sept 4 in the form of a letter written by a Willy Sum.

Titled "The takeaway from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post", the article was in response to comments Mr Seah had made on Facebook about a meeting between several Singaporean activists and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in August. The article misspelt Mr Seah's name.

Mr Xu said on Sept 18, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) ordered TOC to take down the article, and he complied on the same day.

On Oct 4, IMDA filed a police report, he added.

IMDA said last week it made the report because the TOC article had made serious allegations that "the Government's highest officers are corrupt and that the Constitution has been tampered with".

Mr Xu said the writer of the article, who uses the pen name Willy Sum, was questioned by the police yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'TOC resumes online publication after replacing hardware seized by police'. Print Edition | Subscribe