Business lost, safety threatened because of fake news

Ms May Liu, business owner of halal-certified yong tau foo stall Green Delights, which was rocked by fake news alleging that it sold a pork dish last year. She said that though an investigation found that the stall had not violated any rules, the dam
Ms May Liu, business owner of halal-certified yong tau foo stall Green Delights, which was rocked by fake news alleging that it sold a pork dish last year. She said that though an investigation found that the stall had not violated any rules, the damage had already been done. She added that the stall saw fewer Muslim customers and business dropped by as much as 20 per cent.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Ms May Liu's halal-certified yong tau foo stall at Westgate mall was open for just six months when it was rocked by fake news alleging that it sold a pork dish.

Someone had snapped a picture of her stall in a way that suggested it was advertising a pork belly dish, when, in fact, the poster had been put up by a neighbouring stall.

The post went viral on social media sites and on WhatsApp last year, with some netizens declaring a boycott of the stall, Green Delights, and urging others to do the same.

The fake news about the stall's halal status is among a number of falsehoods that have made the news in recent years. The topic came up in Parliament during a debate on fake news earlier this month.

A proposed law would give the Government powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest.

Proposed changes to the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) would also give individuals and entities more avenues of help to rectify false statements about themselves.

Looking back on the incident, Ms Liu, 49, said she is glad that more help would be available to victims of falsehoods such as herself.

WRONGLY ACCUSED

I was really upset when I heard the fake news about my stall. We've been selling halal-certified food for a while now, and we've always done things the right way and followed protocol. How could they just come out and wrongly accuse us?

MS MAY LIU, owner of halal-certified yong tau foo stall Green Delights at Westgate mall, on her reaction when fake news alleging her stall sold pork went viral.


NO END IN SIGHT

Some of the trolls just continued their online rampage. This blood lust is something that is a bit hard to understand, and, for Peter, it was obviously a little terrifying.

MR BENJAMIN LEE, colleague of Mr Peter Cheung, who was erroneously identified as the cyclist involved in an altercation with a lorry driver in Pasir Ris late last year, on the online vitriol his colleague faced.

 
 
 

"I was really upset when I heard the fake news about my stall. We've been selling halal-certified food for a while now, and we've always done things the right way and followed protocol. How could they just come out and wrongly accuse us?"

She had to clarify the matter with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), and its officers went to her stall within days to investigate. Though the probe found that it had not violated any rules, the damage had already been done.

The stall saw fewer Muslim customers and business dropped by as much as 20 per cent, said Ms Liu.

Things got better only when people started coming out in support of the stall, she said.

"It takes a while to build trust with our customers, we didn't want to lose it just like this," she added.

When Mr Peter Cheung, 51, was erroneously identified as the cyclist involved in an altercation with a lorry driver in Pasir Ris late last year, netizens lambasted him on his Facebook page and threatened to harm him.

Many also left negative comments on the Facebook page of ad agency DDB Asia, his employer.

Even after Mr Cheung and his colleague Benjamin Lee, 49, clarified the matter on various Facebook pages, the online vitriol continued.

Mr Lee said: "Some of the trolls just continued their online rampage. This blood lust is something that is a bit hard to understand, and, for Peter, it was obviously a little terrifying."

He added that they would "most definitely" consider seeking the courts' help to make sure the clarification is seen by all, or that the offending posts are taken down.

For others, however, the changes might have come too late.

Undergraduate Gia Lim, 20, recalled her shock and frustration when a family friend claimed, on a blog, to have had sexual relations with her when she was in her teens.

The enhanced legislation to fight false statements might have helped to clear her name then, she said.

Along with Poha amendments to outlaw "doxxing" - the act of publishing identifiable information to harass someone - Ms Lim hopes new laws will serve as a warning to potential perpetrators that they cannot get away lightly.

"There are consequences now," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 14, 2019, with the headline 'Business lost, safety threatened because of fake news'. Print Edition | Subscribe