Facebook issued online falsehoods directive after Singapore site fails to comply

Singapore government issues a directive under country's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, instructing Facebook to publish a correction on a post after the original author refuses to comply with an earlier directive to do so.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to include comments from Facebook.]

Facebook has been issued a directive in Singapore to publish a correction on a post, after the author refuses to comply with an earlier directive to do so. This is the first time a foreign media platform has received a directive under the country's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) since the law came into effect last month. 

The POFMA Office, which administers the Act, said in a statement Friday that the Minister for Home Affairs ordered the Targeted Correction Direction to be issued, following Alex Tan Zhi Xiang's non-compliance with a previous Correction Direction handed out the previous day. 

Correction Direction orders are issued to a person the government deemed to have communicated a falsehood. Recipients are required to publish a correction notice, providing access to the correct facts. They are not required to take down their post or make edits to their content. Such directives also do not carry criminal sanctions.

Tan had been directed to carry a correction notice in full at the top of his November 23 post on Facebook, on which he ran the States Times Review page. The POFMA Office said it had begun investigations against Tan over his failure to comply with the directive. 

The office said he falsely stated that two critics of the government had been arrested  and had made "scurrilous accusations" against Singapore's Elections Department, Prime Minister, and election process. 

On his part, Tan appears to remain defiant, stating in a post on Facebook that "there shall be no compliance" and he was "happy to go to 10 years' jail" with regards to "the POFMA censorship".

A Facebook spokesperson later confirmed it had complied with the correction direction, stating: "As required by Singapore law, Facebook applied a label to these posts, which were determined by the Singapore government to contain false information. As it is early days of the law coming into effect, we hope the Singapore government's assurances that it will not impact free expression will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation."

This "label" currently is enclosed at the end of the November 23 post and includes URL links to a Singapore government website highlighting false statements in the post as well as Facebook's explanation on why the post carries a correction notice.  

According to the spokesperson, Facebook removed 3.2 billion fake accounts between April and September this year, which were detected using machine learning technology. 

In September, the social media giant said advertisers running campaigns on social issues, elections, and politics on its platform in Singapore would have to confirm their identity and location, and reveal who was responsible for the ads. The move was part of efforts to stem the spread of "misinformation" and help block foreign interference in local elections, it said. 

The Singapore government earlier this week ordered a correction directive against Singapore opposition politician Brad Bowyer over a Facebook post in which he said, amongst others, that the government was involved in decisions made by two state-owned investment firms. 

The POFMA was passed in May, following a brief public debate, and kicked in on  October 2 with details on how appeals against directives could be made. The bill had passed amidst strong criticism that it gave the government far-reaching powers over online communication and would be used to stifle free speech as well as quell political opponents.


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