Fake news law invoked for the first time over Facebook post

SINGAPORE  - Singapore’s law against fake news has been used for the first time, with Progress Singapore Party (PSP) member Brad Bowyer being asked 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 a statement on Monday (Nov 25).

In particular, Mr Bowyer had implied that the Government controls Temasek and GIC’s commercial decisions, which is false, the Government said on its fact-checking website Factually.

Mr Bowyer, who was originally from Britain but is now a Singaporean, was issued a correction direction on Monday under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).

By late morning he had put up a correction note at the top of his Facebook post saying that the post “contains false statements of fact”, along with a link to an article providing the correct facts.

Pofma was passed by Parliament in May and took effect on Oct 2.

The law gives ministers the power to act against a piece of falsehood on the Internet when it is in the public interest to do so. 

They can order that it be taken down or ask for corrections to be put up alongside it.

Critics had said it could have a chilling effect. Addressing these concerns, the Government had said it would resort to take down orders only in the more egregious cases.

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

When contacted, Mr Bowyer told The Straits Times he had no issue with the correction direction.

He later added in a second Facebook post: “I feel it is fair to have both points of view and clarifications and corrections of fact when necessary.

“I do my best to use public facts and make informed statements of opinion based on the details I have access too. I am not against being asked to make clarifications or corrections especially if it is in the public interest.”

Mr Bowyer, who had previously been a People’s Action Party member before he left to join the People’s Voice Party and eventually PSP, also said the incident would not deter him from being vocal about social and political issues.

In his Nov 13 Facebook post, he  had criticised GIC and Temasek as well as other government-linked companies for certain investments that he said would rack up huge financial losses.

 
 
 

He also said the Government had a “fiduciary responsibility” to account for the losses.

Describing these statements as falsehoods, the Government said on its fact-checking website Factually: “Mr Bowyer implies that the Singapore Government controls Temasek’s and GIC’s commercial decisions. This is false.”

It added: “Mr Bowyer uses false and misleading statements to smear the reputation of Temasek and GIC.”

Contrary to these claims, said the Government on its Factually website, the investment company and sovereign wealth fund are run on market principles, independent of the Government.

“The Government’s role is to ensure that Temasek and GIC have competent boards, which ensure that their respective mandates are met. The Government also holds the boards of Temasek and GIC accountable for their respective overall performances,” said the Government.

The MOF, echoing this, said that Temasek and GIC have made positive returns over the long term and have contributed significantly to the national budget, contrary to the huge losses that Mr Bowyer implied they would incur in his post.

In response to the Government’s corrections and clarifications, Mr Bowyer said in a third Facebook post that he had merely been asking fair questions about why the Government does not have more oversight of GIC and Temasek, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong being the chairman of GIC and his wife Ho Ching as chief executive officer of Temasek.

He wrote: “I feel we should all do our best to comment factually and responsibly however when questions arise just asserting something is false or giving irrelevant information does not answer valid questions. With more transparency, clarification and accountability we can rest easier that our interests are in the safe hands.”