Coronavirus: Pofma exemptions lifted amid spread of fake news

A number of search engines and social media platforms such as Google, Baidu, Facebook and Twitter must now comply with general correction directions under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.
A number of search engines and social media platforms such as Google, Baidu, Facebook and Twitter must now comply with general correction directions under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A number of search engines and social media platforms - including Google, Baidu, Facebook and Twitter - must now comply with general correction directions under the fake news law.

Several Internet intermediaries were temporarily exempted from such directions when the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) took effect last October.

However, that exemption will be lifted on Friday (Jan 31), the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said on Thursday, adding that "this move is critical given the evolving situation with the Wuhan coronavirus".

Misinformation on the spread of the virus has swirled online recently, in Singapore and globally.

General correction directions are different from targeted correction directions that require a user or Internet platform to carry a correction notice on a post, article or other content containing a falsehood.

A general correction direction can be issued to prescribed Internet intermediaries, telecom and broadcast licensees, or newspapers, to get them to communicate, publish, broadcast or transmit a correction notice to all users in Singapore - not just the ones who access the falsehood - when a false statement has been conveyed and it is in the public interest to correct it.

Most of the previous corrections issued under Pofma to date have been targeted corrections.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong instructed the Pofma Office to issue the first general correction on Tuesday against SPH Magazines, which runs the HardwareZone forum, over a user-made forum post that falsely claimed someone in Singapore had died from the Wuhan coronavirus.

The company had earlier taken down the thread, in line with its community guidelines, and also complied with the order.

 
 
 

The forum was not on the list of exempted intermediaries.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan instructed the Pofma Office to issue a targeted correction direction to Facebook, after two users falsely alleged that Woodlands MRT station was closed for disinfection because there was a suspected case of the Wuhan virus.

Facebook was required to carry a correction notice on the two Facebook posts that contained the falsehood.

"The Government is prepared to use all tools at its disposal to provide the public with accurate and up-to-date information, and to deal with falsehoods that may cause panic or confusion," MCI said on Thursday.

"We have worked closely with the relevant technology companies, and appreciate the industry's support and cooperation in our national response to this challenging situation," it added.