Singapore instructs Facebook to block page access under online falsehoods law

Social media platform has been ordered to block access to the States Times Review page, after the latter's author repeatedly ignored directives from the Singapore government under the country's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

The Singapore government has directed Facebook to block access to the States Times Review (STR) page, after the latter repeatedly refused to comply with previous directives under the country's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA). The "disabling" order, outlined under Section 34 of the Act, requires Facebook to disable access for local users. 

Issued on Monday by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), the latest order came two days after the ministry served a directive for the STR page on Facebook to be tagged a "Declared Online Location" (DOL). This required the author of the page, Alex Tan, to publish a notice on the page stating it had "a history of communicating falsehoods". The order was to take effect from February 16, but to date, the government said it had not been complied with.  

In its latest statement, the MCI said: "The STR page on [Facebook] has repeatedly conveyed falsehoods and not complied with any of the POFMA directions that it has been served with."

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This prompted the order to disable access to the page. As at press time, the STR page on Facebook could still be accessed in Singapore. 

ZDNet has reached out to the social media company with questions about the order and will update this article when Facebook responds. ZDNet understands that the order has been received and was being reviewed by the company. 

Facebook in November also was issued a Targeted Correction Direction to publish a correction notice on a November 23 post that appeared on the STR page. The notice was served to the US internet company after Tan refused to comply with his directive to do so. Facebook later complied with the order.

According to the POFMA, there are no similar provisions for internet intermediaries to publish a DOL should the author refuse to comply with the original order. 

Founded in November 2018, the STR describes itself as "a non-profit hobby" of Alex Tan, who holds dual citizenship in Singapore and Australia. Tan is currently based in Sydney. To maintain its "independence and credibility", the site said it did not accept donations. However, it said it accepts "contributions" via PayPal in order to users who wanted to gain access to the site for free. 

On its Facebook page, the STR said it was "turning to YouTube for publication" due to a "censorship ban" in Singapore on its website.

ZDNet approached the MCI for comments, including whether it would pursue a similar access blocking directive for Google -- to disable access to the STR's YouTube channel -- and charge Tan for refusing to comply with any of the POFMA directives. This article will be updated when the ministry responds. 

Non-compliance to a POFMA directive is an offence under the Act. Offenders could face up to three or five years' imprisonment, a SG$30,000 or SG$50,000 fine, or both. If bots or inauthentic accounts are used to amplify falsehoods, the potential penalties that could be applied would be doubled. Offending internet intermediaries, meanwhile, could face up to SG$1 million in fines, and could also receive a daily SG$100,000 fine for each day they continue to breach the Act after conviction.

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