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Facebook issues disclaimer on post deemed as fake news by Singapore government

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By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

December 2, 2019 | 3 min read

Facebook has labelled a post by online website States Times Review as “false information” after being instructed to do so by the Singapore government.

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The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has disputed the allegations saying that: “These claims are false and baseless."

The post had alleged that a “whistleblower who exposed a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate’s Christian affiliations” has been arrested and that the owner of the NUSSU – NUS Students United Facebook page, which published the claims about the PAP candidate, is under police investigation.

However, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has disputed the allegations, saying that: “These claims are false and baseless. No one has been arrested or charged arising from the NSU post.”

This led to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) office to request Alex Tan Zhi Xiang, a 32-year-old Singaporean who runs the States Times Review website and Facebook page to remove the post.

Under POFMA, which has been labelled the "anti-fake news law", it puts power in the hands of ministers to order the correction or removal of online content judged to the be a falsehood, but lines have been drawn on what it can act on.

In addition, it will also allow the government to impose fines of up to SGD$1m ($737,790) on tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter if they do not act swiftly to limit the spread of falsehoods by displaying corrections or removing them completely.

It will also force tech platforms to disable fake accounts operated by bots and block advertisements on fake news sites, thereby cutting off their revenue streams.

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After Tan failed to comply, POFMA then asked Facebook to put a notice at the bottom of the post that said: "Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has 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,” a Facebook spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia.

This is the second time POFMA has been enforced in Singapore in as many weeks after a politician from an opposition party to correct his Facebook post.

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