Correction directions issued to two Facebook pages by Pofma Office

The State News Singapore Facebook page made false statements of fact in a post published on June 27, 2020. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM POFMAOFFICE.GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office on Monday (June 29) issued a correction direction each to two Facebook pages for false statements about cross-border travel arrangements between Singapore and Malaysia.

The directions were issued on the instruction of the alternate authority for the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This is the first correction direction issued by an alternate authority. Facebook was also issued a targeted correction direction.

Under Pofma, when a Writ of Election is issued, ministers cease to have the power to issue orders under the Act, but these powers may be exercised by an alternate authority - a senior civil servant whom the respective ministers designated beforehand.

The permanent secretaries of all 16 ministries and several portfolios in the Prime Minister's Office were appointed alternate authorities on June 8.

The power of alternate authorities can be exercised from the day the Writ is issued to the close of Polling Day.

According to the Pofma Office, the State News Singapore Facebook page made false statements of fact about cross-border travel arrangements between Singapore and Malaysia in a post published on June 27. The post was shared on Mr Alex Tan's Facebook page.

The post by State News Singapore's page said: "(D)espite Lee Hsien Loong personally calling Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin requesting Malaysia to open up daily commute, the Malaysian authorities refused to accede to his request."

However, this is false, said the Government on its fact-checking website, Factually.

"We wish to clarify that the telephone call between the two Prime Ministers was initiated at the request of Prime Minister Muhyiddin. As Prime Minister Muhyiddin has publicly stated, he proposed that the Singapore Government consider a daily cross-border commuting arrangement."

The site added that the Singapore Government is committed to discussing the gradual and phased resumption of cross-border travel with Malaysia, subject to mutually agreed public health protocols, to preserve the public health and safety of citizens of both countries.

"Singapore and Malaysia are working on the Periodic Commuting Arrangement and the Reciprocal Green Lane, and officials on both sides will continue discussions on other proposals to gradually facilitate more cross-border movement of people, while taking into account the medical resources available in both countries," it said.

Under the correction direction, posts do not have to be taken down, but the pages will have to run a correction notice with links to the facts.

Facebook, under the targeted correction direction, will have to communicate a correction notice to all users in Singapore who accessed the falsehood through its site. This allows users who have seen the falsehood on a platform to also see the correction notice.

In its statement on Monday, the Pofma Office said that the State News Singapore and Alex Tan Facebook pages were created on May 30, 2020, and June 6, 2020, respectively, after the States Times Review, the Singapore States Times, the National Times Singapore and Mr Tan's Facebook pages - all created and operated by Mr Tan - were made Declared Online Locations (DOL).

This bars Mr Tan from receiving any financial benefit from operating them.

The Ministry of Communications and Information, under which the Pofma Office operates, made the declarations earlier this year after these sites communicated numerous falsehoods and refused to comply with Pofma correction directions.

Under Pofma, a site which receives three correction directions for publishing falsehoods on various issues within six months can be declared a DOL. Facebook was also ordered to disable access to the four pages for Singapore users.

Mr Alex Tan, who lives in Australia, was issued Pofma correction directions largely in relation to falsehoods related to the Covid-19 situation, including claims that Singapore had run out of face masks.

As of Tuesday (June 30), the Facebook post is no longer available on both the State News Singapore Facebook page and Mr Tan's Facebook page.

Correction: This article has been edited for clarity.

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