Facebook told to publish correction notice for States Times Review's post under fake news law after site's editor refuses to comply

Mr Alex Tan, the editor of States Times Review, refused on Thursday to comply with an order by the Pofma Office to correct false statements in the post.
Mr Alex Tan, the editor of States Times Review, refused on Thursday to comply with an order by the Pofma Office to correct false statements in the post.PHOTOS: ST FILE, GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Technology giant Facebook was directed on Friday (Nov 29) under the Republic's fake news law to publish a correction notice for a Facebook post by website States Times Review.

This is the first time the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) is being invoked on an Internet platform.

Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam instructed the Pofma Office on Friday to issue a targeted correction direction to Facebook.

This comes after Mr Alex Tan Zhi Xiang, the editor of States Times Review, refused on Thursday to comply with an order by the Pofma Office to correct false statements in the post.

The post was about People’s Action Party (PAP) member Rachel Ong and a Nussu-NUS Students United Facebook post.

States Times Review is blocked in Singapore and has content that, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), spreads “outright fabrications”.

Under the correction direction, Facebook is required to publish a correction notice on the States Times Review post that was published last Saturday, the Pofma Office said on Friday.

The office added that it is investigating Mr Tan, who also runs the States Times Review website's Facebook page, for failing to comply with the correction direction.

 A targeted correction direction is an order issued to an Internet platform, whose service is used to communicate a falsehood that affects the public interest.

The direction requires the Internet platform to communicate a correction notice through its service to all users in Singapore who access the falsehood through the service.

 
 

The Pofma Office said that this is so that users who see the falsehood on a platform also see the correction notice on it.

This contrasts with the correction directions issued twice in four days this week on two people. Such a direction is issued to a person who has  communicated a falsehood that affects the public interest.

This direction requires the person to publish a correction notice and provide readers access to the correct facts.

The direction does not require the person to take down his online post or make edits to the post’s content. It also does not impose criminal sanctions.

On Thursday, Mr Tan, 32, became the second person to receive a correction order under Singapore’s fake news law.

Mr Tan claimed in a Facebook post on the same day that he is now a citizen of Australia, and that States Times Review and he “will not comply with any order from a foreign government like North Korea or Singapore” in relation to the Pofma Office direction.

On Monday, Pofma was invoked for the first time since it took effect on Oct 2. Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer was directed by the Pofma Office to put up a correction over his Facebook post on Temasek and GIC as well as other government-linked companies.

In Mr Tan’s case on Thursday, MHA said that the claims made in a Nov 23 post on the States Times Review Facebook page were “false and baseless”.

The Facebook post had cited a Nov 17 Nussu-NUS Students United post on Ms Ong’s alleged religious affiliations and said that one person involved in the matter was arrested and another was being investigated by the police.

The Nussu-NUS Students United Facebook page parodies the National University of Singapore Students’ Union or Nussu.

It has been accused of misquoting Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, in the post.

MHA said on Thursday that no one has been arrested or charged in relation to the spoof student group’s post.

Facebook said earlier on Nov 23 that it had taken down the Nussu-NUS Students United page after accounts linked to it failed to meet community guidelines and violated “authenticity policies”.

On Thursday, Mr Tan updated the Nov 23 States Times Review Facebook post under contention by saying that “the Singapore government claimed that no arrest was made” and that this was “contrary to the tip off we received”.

Besides referring to the Nussu-NUS Students United episode in the post, the States Times Review Facebook page also made the accusation that Singapore’s elections are rigged.

MHA, describing these allegations as “scurrilous” and “absurd”, said: “Singapore’s electoral system enjoys high public trust. Elections are held regularly and contested. The electoral system and its procedures are clearly spelt out in law, and apply to all political participants, regardless of affiliation.”

The ministry added that during elections, there are equal opportunities for all political participants to observe and monitor the election process.

It said Mr Tan is a Singaporean who is not in Singapore and is the editor of websites such as “Temasek Review News” and “Singapore Herald”, which have breached the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) Internet Code of Practice on the grounds of public interest.

The ministry also said these sites have been blocked  and “have perpetuated outright fabrications, such as misrepresenting Singapore’s position in foreign relations with other countries and casting aspersions on the integrity of public institutions”.

ST understands that Facebook has received the request and is reviewing it.