States Times Review told to correct Facebook post under fake news law, refuses to comply

A screenshot of the corrections and clarifications regarding falsehoods posted by States Times Review on Facebook. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The person who runs the Facebook page of website States Times Review was directed on Thursday (Nov 28) under the Republic's fake news law to correct false statements in a post on the page.

However, he has said that the site will not comply with the order.

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

This is the second time the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) has been invoked, following its first use on Monday in relation to a separate Facebook post by opposition party member Brad Bowyer.

The Pofma Office said on Thursday that it was instructed by Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam to issue a correction direction to Mr Alex Tan Zhi Xiang regarding a post on the States Times Review Facebook page on Nov 23.

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

MHA said in a statement that the States Times Review Facebook page was required to carry a correction notice stating that its article contains falsehoods.

The Nussu-NUS Students United Facebook page, which parodies the National University of Singapore Students' Union or Nussu, was accused earlier this month of misquoting Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, in a post it made.

The States Times Review Facebook post had cited a 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 MHA said these claims are false and baseless.

Mr Alex Tan, who runs States Times Review, is a 32-year-old Singaporean, who is not in Singapore. He is the editor of various websites including Temasek Review News and Singapore Herald. PHOTO: ST FILE

No one has been arrested or charged in relation to the spoof student group's post, the ministry said.

Facebook said last Saturday 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".

Referring to Facebook's action, the ministry added: "The Government did not request that Facebook take down the Nussu-NUS Students United post or disable the page. It was Facebook which removed the page on its own accord."

The ministry said the States Times Review article also made various other "scurrilous" allegations, including about Singapore's elections process.

Calling the allegations "absurd", it 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 MHA added that during elections, there are equal opportunities for all political participants to observe and monitor the election process.

The ministry said that Mr Tan, who runs States Times Review, is a 32-year-old Singaporean, who is not in Singapore.

He is also the editor of various websites including Temasek Review News and Singapore Herald.

These websites have breached the Infocomm Media Development Authority's (IMDA's) Internet Code of Practice on the grounds of public interest and have been blocked by IMDA, said the ministry.

"This is not the first time that these websites, as well as States Times Review, 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," said the MHA.

At about 1.20pm on Thursday, the States Times Review Facebook page said in an update in the Nov 23 post that "the Singapore government claimed that no arrest was made" and that this was "contrary to the tip off we received".

Mr Tan also said earlier on the page at about 11.30am that he and States Times Review "will not comply with any order from a foreign government".

Pofma was used for the first time on Monday, with Mr Bowyer, a Progress Singapore Party member, being directed to correct false statements he made about investments by GIC, Temasek and other government-linked companies.

A Nov 13 Facebook post he made "contains clearly false statements of fact, and undermines public trust in the Government", the Ministry of Finance said.

In Monday's case, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had instructed the Pofma Office to issue a correction direction, which required Mr Bowyer to put up in full a correction note along with his post, that still remained online. Mr Bowyer made the correction on the same day.

Pofma, which came into force on Oct 2, targets individuals and technology companies, giving ministers the power to order removal or corrections of online falsehoods, as well as the blocking of accounts or sites that spread untruths.

Those who disregard these orders or intentionally spread falsehoods against the public interest can be criminally sanctioned. Technology firms can be fined up to $1 million, and individuals jailed up to 10 years.

To assure observers concerned that the law could be used unjustly for political ends, government ministers have said that opinions, criticisms, satire or parody will not come under the law, with a falsehood strictly referring to a statement of fact that is either false or misleading.

A person who disagrees with a minister's decision can have his appeal heard in the High Court as early as nine days after initiating a challenge to the minister, although the minister can decide whether to allow the appeal against his decision to reach the court.

The appeal will cost the defendant $200, with no charge for the first three days of court hearing.

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