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Our Singaporean hero – Joseph Schooling who won the gold medal for the 100m butterfly event at Rio Olympics 2016

Joseph Schooling supports the passing of POFMA after being affected by misrepresenting ads, but can POFMA actually help his case?

Following the passing of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA) on Wednesday evening (8 May) in Parliament, Singapore’s Olympic champion Joseph Schooling took to his Facebook on Thursday (9 May) to pen down his support towards the Bill.

He said as a victim of fake news himself, he understands how important it is to curb fake news.

As an example, Mr Schooling said that in 2018, online advertisements have wrongly used his name and images for promotion without his approval and knowledge.

The advertisements on Facebook have headlines such as “Schooling Reveals His Genius Wealth Strategies” and “What Schooling Is Doing With All His Wealth”, and upon seeing these ads, the swimmer said he was “completely stumped”.

He wrote, “These perpetrators misused my name and images to spread falsehoods. I never endorsed any of these advertisements – and I was really worried that my friends would be duped into investing, thinking that I made a fortune through these schemes”.

As such, he said that it was worrying and scary to see the consequences of falsehoods and the amount of damage it had done to him and his close ones.

He added that he read about so many other countries being affected by fake news and “the extent of the damage should not be taken lightly”.

However, upon reading his support for POFMA and the reason behind it, a netizen named Joshua Loke commented and said that in Schooling’s case, POFMA would not be able to do anything.

This is because his case is not exactly fake news, but rather “misleading advertising”.

Mr Loke explained that these ad scammers are called “affiliates” and “they advertise on advertising networks like Yahoo, Facebook, porn websites lying that a celebrity endorses a product”. As such, it’s not exactly fake news but rather a method of advertising.

Besides Mr Loke, there are a number of other netizens who also pointed out that Mr Schooling is probably confused with the POFMA, and the example that he laid out on Facebook ads are merely just scammers using his name for advertisements.

Under POFMA, the ministers can order for correction or takedown of online posts if the statement contained in the post is false or misleading and a risk to public interest or order. While Mr Schooling is of someone of significant public interest but he is not the same public interest that the condition of the ministers exercising the powers are defined under.

Having said that, the law that Mr Schooling should be supporting is Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). Just recently, the Government made an amendment to the Act and including “doxxing” in it. Doxxing comprises of publishing someone’s personal information like their photos, contact numbers or employment details with the motive of harassment will be criminalised under the proposed changes for POHA.

The amendments, which was tabled on 1 April, are done to improve protection for victims of harassment and falsehoods, as well as make it easier for them to seek for remedies. Mr Schooling could very well seek protection from his distress through POHA.

If that is not all, ironically, Mr Schooling’s case of misleading advertising that the swimmer is upset about is not even illegal in Singapore. Therefore, there’s no point of him supporting POFMA for his mentioned reason as the fake news law would not be able to help his case either way.