Facebook caught in crossfire of Singapore's 'fake news' law

SINGAPORE: The Singaporean government on Friday again invoked its recently enacted “fake news” law, this time ordering Facebook to publish a correction notice on a post made by an anti-government blog.

In the third such order in a week, an arm of the ministry of communications and information instructed Facebook to correct a States Times Review post accused of using falsehoods to criticise the ruling People’s Action Party. The government had previously denounced the report that police had arrested a government whistle-blower and taken down information that exposed a plot to turn the affluent city into a Christian state. Singapore introduced its controversial fake news law as it prepares to hold general elections by April 2021.

The order “requires Facebook to publish a correction notice”, the ministry arm, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act Office, said in a statement. It “has also commenced investigations against Mr Tan for failing to comply” with the Thursday order. The agency issued its statement following what it called “non-compliance” of a government order on Thursday directed at author Alex Tan.

According to a government clarification, Tan’s post dated November 23 made a number of false assertions. “These claims are false and baseless,” the clarification read. “The STR also has made scurrilous accusations against the elections department, the prime minister, and the election process in Singapore.”

Tan, who runs the States Times Review Facebook page from his home in Sydney, said he was never notified of the government order, but issued a clarification on Thursday after being told of the matter by a friend. The post’s edit history shows the clarification was added at 1:19 pm Thursday. “Technically speaking, I fulfilled what they wanted,” the 32-year-old said by phone. “If you ask me, I think the government is testing their new powers, so basically this would be a good case study.”