Underneath a posting by the States Times Review, a third party publishing company, the social media giant added a written disclaimer. “(Facebook) is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information,” it said.
The States Times is a frequent critic of the Singapore government, and the article made claims about election rigging and the alleged arrest of a whistleblower. It was also ordered to make corrections, but its editor Alex Tan claims to be an Australian citizen and said that he had no intention of complying with a foreign government. Facebook’s addendum is only visible to Facebook users within Singapore.
Singapore’s Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) allows government ministers to counter what they determine as fake news by ordering websites to publish disclaimers. The websites can appeal the decisions to a court but must comply immediately and before the case is heard. The law also permits actions against bots and spammers.
Failure to comply with a POFMA order can result in a fine of S$1 million (US$731,000), with an additional penalty of S$100,000 for each day of non-compliance thereafter.
The fake news act has divided opinion. The Singapore government argued that it was necessary because its mixed race, and massively online population is sensitive to troublemaking. Critics say that it is yet another example of the ruling PAP-led government stifling criticism. Although the city-state is the Asian regional HQ for several international media companies, Singapore ranks a lowly 151 in the press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
One supporter of the government order against the States Times and Facebook wrote: “This is perhaps the most elegant approach to combating fake news. No takedowns, no censorship. Just a right of reply. And the reader can judge for him/herself.”
Facebook appeared to comply begrudgingly. In a statement Facebook said that it hoped that “the Singapore government’s assurances that it will not impact free expression will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation.”
The States Times incident is the second time in a week that the government has issued a so-called “correction notice.” On Monday, the government ordered opposition member of parliament Brad Bowyer to correct a Facebook post questioning the independence of state investment funds. He complied with the notice, but on Thursday added a statement suggesting that he too does not feel the law to be fair.
“Although I have no problems in following the law…that does not mean that I agree with the position (the government is) taking or admit to any false statements on my part,Bowyer said. He explained that he must comply “regardless of whether I make an appeal.”