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Facebook expresses censorship concerns after blocking Singapore users' access to fake news page


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

February 19, 2020 | 3 min read

Facebook has blocked Singapore-based users access to the page of the State Times’ Review (STR) on the orders of the Singapore government.


The latest correction notice was served after STR posted an article containing claims about the coronavirus.

STR has been accused on multiple occasions by the government of perpetuating fake news and misinformation. It had been served three correction directions by the government under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), but failed to heed any.

The latest correction notice was served after STR posted an article containing claims about the coronavirus (Covid-19) situation that was deemed "entirely untrue" according to the government.

The Covid-19 crisis has hit a high level of concern globally, and has now infected 75,151 people and claimed the lives of 2,007 people across 29 territories at the time of writing.

However, after STR failed to heed the notice, it was designated as a Declared Online Location (DOL) by POFMA. A DOL is defined by the POFMA Office as "online locations that have carried three or more different online falsehoods that are the subject of active directions issued by POFMA Office".

DOLs are required to carry a notice warning readers to "exercise caution and do additional fact-checking" when accessing the sites for information.

However, the STR refused to carry the required DOL notice and instead said it was shutting down to meet the Government’s compliance requirements, with The Real Singapore taking over its Facebook page and website. Its Facebook page name was changed to @THEREALSINGAPORE.

Following this, the minister for communications and information S Iswaran then directed the POFMA Office to order Facebook to block Singapore users from accessing STR’s page.

Facebook complied as it said it was "legally compelled" to carry out the order. However, the social network told Channel NewsAsia it believed "orders like this are disproportionate" and "contradict the Singapore government’s claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool".

"We’ve repeatedly highlighted this law’s potential for overreach and we’re deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

The Drum previously looked at why misinformation is a clear and present danger during the coronavirus outbreak.

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