Facebook ordered to disable access to States Times Review Facebook page for Singapore users

SINGAPORE – Facebook has been ordered to disable access for Singapore users to the States Times Review Facebook page, under Singapore’s law against fake news.

The move on Monday (Feb 17) came two days after the page became the first online site to be barred from receiving any financial benefit as a Declared Online Location (DOL).

Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), online sites can be designated as a DOL after they receive three directions under the law within six months.

In the case of the STR page, owned by Singaporean Alex Tan Zhi Xiang, three correction directions were issued on three separate occasions to the page over falsehoods published on various issues, including the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Tan has ignored all three directions. He also did not put up a notice warning people that the page has a history of communicating falsehoods, as required for sites which are declared as a DOL.

Noting this, the Ministry of Communications and Information on Monday said the page has “repeatedly conveyed falsehoods and not complied with any of the Pofma Directions that it has been served with”.

As such, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran has directed the Pofma Office to order Facebook to disable access for Singapore users to the page, under Section 34 of the Act.

The provision allows the Government to order an Internet intermediary to disable access to a DOL, if the owner of the DOL does not comply with the declaration, and paid content on the site continues to be displayed to users here.

If an Internet intermediary fails to comply and is convicted, it can be fined up to $20,000 for each day that the government order is not fully complied with, up to a total of $500,000.

The Straits Times has contacted Facebook for comments.

The MCI said previously that the STR Facebook page is linked to other websites operated by Mr Tan which derive monetary benefits from publishing “falsehoods at the expense of Singaporeans and our society”.

Mr Tan can be fined up to $40,000 or jailed for up to three years, or both, for not complying with the requirements under Pofma.

In addition, it is also an offence for him to profit from the page, or for anyone to provide financial support to the page for the purpose of communicating falsehoods.

They can be fined up to $40,000 or jailed for up to three years, or both, for doing so.

MCI noted that the STR Facebook page “has repeatedly conveyed numerous falsehoods”, three of which were the subject of Pofma directions this month and last month, and in November last year.

Among the erroneous claims the page was issued correction directions for were that Singapore has not been able to trace the source infections in any of the coronavirus cases and that Singapore had run out of surgical masks.

In another case unrelated to the outbreak of the virus, Mr Tan had made up a story about the police having arrested someone over comments on a potential People’s Action Party candidate.

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