Action can be taken against those who flood govt hotlines, incite others to do so: Ministries

The incitement and carrying out of actions that aim to disrupt essential call centre operations in Singapore is illegal.
The incitement and carrying out of actions that aim to disrupt essential call centre operations in Singapore is illegal.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - The authorities will not hesitate to take action against people who disrupt essential call centre operations or encourage others to do so.

This includes those who call the National Care Hotline and other government phone lines “with the intention of overwhelming and disrupting” such operations.

“The incitement and carrying out of actions that aim to disrupt any essential call centre operations is illegal,” said the ministries of Health and Social and Family Development, in response to queries from The Straits Times.

“We take this matter very seriously, and will not hesitate to work with the police and enforcement agencies to take action where necessary.”

Last week, several chat groups and channels on messaging app Telegram had called on members to “flood” government phone lines – including both ministries’ hotlines – under the guise of giving feedback on the latest measures that bar unvaccinated people from entering malls and other public spaces.

The message claimed that the Government was seeking “nationwide ground feedback” on the rules.

“Get people to demand this gets pushed up to the call centre manager. And ask for them to revert back,” the message said. “Otherwise call again tomorrow and ask for any feedback.”
These chat groups and channels are public, meaning anyone can join them or view their messages. 

Checks by The Straits Times found that the message calling on people to flood the hotlines was sent to at least one group – Healing the Divide Discussion – with nearly 3,000 members.

It was later posted in group founder Iris Koh’s personal channel.

The group opposes the differentiated implementation of rules by taking into account vaccination status, and says it aims to “heal the divide” in society brought about by such measures.

The messages in the group had not been taken down late in the night yesterday, although in one instance the word “flood” was changed to “call”.

Ms Koh, 45, who is vocal online in her opposition to vaccination, said she was overwhelmed when several hundred people joined the group after stricter measures were announced, and many of them asked her for help as they were confused about the measures.

She said: “Asking people to flood the call centre for no genuine reason is wrong.

“I gave the numbers because I felt they would be better equipped to deal with the inquiries which I don’t have the answers for.”

She added that she is consolidating feedback from group members to share with the authorities.

In their joint statement, the ministries said the hotlines are important channels for Singaporeans in need to seek timely help. They urged everyone to exercise social responsibility and not deny genuine callers the opportunity to seek help.

The Health Ministry saw a surge in calls to its hotline last month, as people on the home recovery programme dialled in to ask for help relating to their specific circumstances. This resulted in complaints after some people were not able to reach a phone operator.

“With the already high call volumes that are being registered every day, such spamming will lengthen waiting times and frustrate genuine callers and may, in some cases, keep some Singaporeans from receiving critical assistance,” the ministries said.