Clarification on report by Lianhe Zaobao on stance of taking down social media posts and articles

In its report published on Wednesday (28 March), Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao reported on the proceedings of the Select Committee hearing 0n Tuesday (28 March) which had freelance journalist Kirsten Han, Howard Lee, former editor of online news sites, Ngiam Shih-tung, vice-president of MARUAH and me as chief editor of The Online Citizen, as witnesses to present oral evidence on deliberate falsehoods.

It reported Dr Janil Puthucheary questioning Ms Han if she would take down a post that makes fake allegation of rape to fan racial violence and she said that she will not as her stance is to adopt other measures and use existing legislation.

The question by Dr Janil is based on an example presented by the Select Committee. The example is an online article by Aljazeera which reported how rape is being used to fan racial violence in Myanmar.

Mr Edwin Tong pointed the panel to the article and noted that there was a claim by a woman who filed a fake police report about her rape in Myanmar and this was posted on social media. He then pointed another part of the article which wrote, “a prominent Buddhist monk named Ashin Wirathu published the claim on his Facebook page that the allegations went viral. Wirathu, known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric.”

This is where the question of whether there should be provision for the government to intervene in highly sensitive issues – such as the above case – was posed to the panel.

The first highlighted sentence writes, “Xu Yuanchen holds a different view, believes if the accusation is proven to be false, should delete the allegation of rape” (literal translation)

I note that this does not reflect the full context of what I said during the hearing. I clearly pointed out to Dr Janil that he was conflating the two matter. One is a fake allegation of rape, while the other is calls for racial violence. I noted to him I do not support the take down of the allegation of rape as it is impossible to prove from the post itself whether or not the rape took place and it is up to the police to quickly look into the matter and clarify the allegations. If the lady did make a false allegation, she should be penalised for it.

I, instead, voiced support to take down the post (or any post on Facebook) that calls for violence against Muslims as it is clearly against the policy of Facebook to promote hate speech.

Dr Janil took my point and moved on.

However, I do note that during the fast exchange of questions filed by Dr Janil that in the end, I agreed on a takedown of the first post which published the falsehood. But it does not gel with my stance as stated in the earlier and later part of the hearing.

The second highlighted sentence writes that Mr Tong had pressed on me to explain why did I not correct an article even though the police had made a statement that contradicted with the contents. It noted that I replied it is because the authorities had not made any reply to the website and that the article was published with the content on hand and I do not have the practice of going back to correct the articles.

The article in question is the account by a mother of a student who happens to be studying in the school which Benjamin Lim, a 14 year-old student who committed suicide after under-going police interview. Her son had shared with her that the officers wore t-shirts with Police wordings on their back on the day they went to pick up Benjamin.

Mr Tong noted that the headline in question, “Student said plainclothes officers at school, wore T-shirts with ‘Police’ at its back” misleads readers and it contradicts what the police had set out in its statement published on its Facebook page.

I point out to Mr Tong that this article is based on the account that I got from the mother and I can share the full account with him if he would like to see. Mr Tong further pressed me by asking if I will only make amendments to the article or take it down with a court order, which I reply, I will gladly include comments from the ministries if they communicate with TOC. I even noted to Mr Tong that other ministries do write back to TOC, only Ministry of Home Affairs does not do so.

Mr Tong pressed even further on what condition will I change the article headline or takedown the article. I replied that I will only if I see the CCTV of the school on that fateful day to prove that the account from the mother is a falsehood.

If Lianhe Zaobao had been listening to the whole session, it should know that the report published on its front page is not a correct representation of the stance taken by me and I request for the newspaper to make a correction.

Lianhe Zaobao had also insinuated TOC as being social political websites being polled to be source of fake news in Singapore based on the “doctored” poll which it published on Tuesday. The original poll released by REACH, a government outreach department, had no mention of TOC in the survey choices.

Also a point to note, Mr Tong had asked me when did I not change the headline after the Minister of Home Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam made his statement in Parliament on 1 March 2016 and noted that I had edited the article on 2 March. When I asked for the article to be scrolled down, he declined for that be done and insisted to focus on the headline.

So if he had, he would have seen this clarifiction at the bottom of the page,  “**Update – The Minister of Law has said in Parliament that police officers did not turn up to the school with t-shirts with the words police on them. It has since been brought to our attention that the police has said that she was mistaken about the dates of the incident and have since removed the post.”

Amendment – This article has been amended to reflect the point that the newspaper had relied on statement made during the hearing to state that I agreed with the take down of the post which contains falsehoods, once it is proven to be false and the editing of the headline to reflect the purpose of the article.