Shanmugam seeks court orders to identify TikTok users who posted false claims of affair

The information will enable Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam to identify the people responsible for possible legal action. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO, REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has applied for court orders against TikTok to compel the social media giant to disclose information about three users who had posted false allegations of him having an extramarital affair.

The user information will enable him to identify the potential parties he can take direct legal action against over the false statements, Mr Shanmugam said in papers filed with the State Courts.

On Aug 15, Mr Shanmugam posted on his Facebook page that an old post which made “false, baseless allegations” that he had an affair with an MP was being recirculated.

He wrote that he had asked his lawyers to look into it and was considering legal options.

Between Aug 13 and Aug 17, videos containing allegations of the affair were uploaded on three TikTok accounts. The usernames of the accounts were “trusted.selller”, “thaddeusthomas81” and “tharakhussin”.

Mr Shanmugam’s then lawyers from Allen & Gledhill sent letters to TikTok asking for immediate action to disable end-user access to the posts as they were false and constituted “serious libel”.

In relation to the account “trusted.seller”, the lawyers also asked TikTok to provide “basic subscriber information” that would lead to identification of the user, strictly for the purpose of serving legal process on the person.

On Sept 6, TikTok replied that the videos by users “tharakhussin” and “thaddeusthomas81” were no longer accessible on the platform.

TikTok’s letter added that it could not disclose user information without a court order or some other legal requirement.

On Sept 14, Mr Shanmugam made an application under the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) asking TikTok to disable end-user access to the post uploaded by the user “trusted.seller”.

He is represented by WongPartnership in the ongoing Poha action and the present applications.

An interim disabling order was served on TikTok on Sept 19, and the social media platform informed WongPartnership that access by end-users in Singapore had been disabled for the post.

Mr Shanmugam then applied for court orders against TikTok to disclose user information of the three accounts.

The applications, one for each user, were made under court rules which state that a non-party can be ordered to reveal documents and information to identify possible parties to any proceedings.

In affidavits made in October, Mr Shanmugam said he had not been able to approach the user “trusted.selller”, whose username appears to be a pseudonym.

The user had uploaded a video on Aug 13 that contained a screenshot of what appeared to be Mr Shanmugam and his former wife, and a screenshot of a forum post with allegations supposedly made by her.

One of the user’s posts was geotagged “Little India” and contained a reference to a WhatsApp number.

On Aug 15, “tharakhussin” uploaded a video containing an image that referred to an article from that contained allegations about the affair.

Two days later, “thaddeusthomas81” posted a video that purported to contain clarifications about Mr Shanmugam, his wife and an alleged mistress.

On Aug 25, the minister’s then lawyers wrote to two Facebook users, one named “Tharak Hussin” and the other “Thaddeus Thomas”, asking for the TikTok posts to be removed and for a written apology.

No response was received.

However, it could not be ascertained that they were the same people behind the TikTok accounts or that they were the users’ real names, said Mr Shanmugam in his affidavits.

The Tiktok account profile of “tharakhussin” had no details except “cat lover”, and one of the user’s posts was geotagged “Singapore”.

The TikTok account profile of “thaddeusthomas81” stated that the user is a “central executive committee member of The Reform Party Singapore”, but this name was not in the list of central executive committee members set out on the party’s website.

Mr Shanmugam started separate proceedings in respect of the article and, on Sept 15, the State Courts declared that the article contained false statements and made a stop publication order against the people responsible for operating the site.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.