SINGAPORE: Facebook has blocked access to the States Times Review’s (STR) page in Singapore, after it was instructed to do so on Monday (Feb 17) by the office overseeing the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran had directed the POFMA Office to order Facebook to block Singapore users from accessing STR’s page, which has failed to comply with at least three correction directions since November last year.
Facebook had issued a correction notice last year for another STR post.
Responding to queries from CNA on Tuesday, Facebook said that it was “legally compelled” to carry out the order.
“After careful review of the order, Facebook has determined that we are legally compelled to restrict access to this page in Singapore,” a Facebook spokesman told CNA.
It also said that it believes “orders like this are disproportionate” and “contradict the 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 the spokesperson.
Checks by CNA showed the page was inaccessible to Singapore users on Tuesday, but available in other cities.
STR’s Facebook page was designated as a Declared Online Location (DOL) on Saturday, a day after Health Minister Gan Kim Yong ordered that the page be served a correction direction for a post containing claims about the COVID-19 situation that were “entirely untrue”.
A Declared Online Location 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.
ANXIETY, FEAR, PANIC
Mr Iswaran said on Tuesday that there was a need to act swiftly against falsehoods, particularly in the current climate of concern over a coronavirus outbreak.
Singapore, which has reported 81 confirmed cases, is one of the worst hit countries outside mainland China.
Globally, the virus has killed more than 1,800 and infected more than 72,000, mostly in mainland China.
“In the context of COVID-19, it is both a healthcare challenge and a psychological challenge,” said Mr Iswaran at the sidelines of a briefing to leaders of Hindu temples.
“It is in circumstances like this that there also is a propensity for perpetuating falsehoods … The reason why we need to act swiftly is because if we don’t, then these falsehoods can cause anxiety, fear, and even panic,” he added.
The STR Facebook page, which is owned by Alex Tan, has not carried the required Declared Online Location notice.
On Tuesday, STR 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.
“They changed the vanity URL, which is not the requirement under the law, and therefore we issued a further direction,” said Mr Iswaran on the decision to order Facebook to block the page in Singapore.
“Facebook has since complied, and the site has now been disabled,” he added.