MinLaw sponsored Michelle Chong’s “Premium Lian” video on POFMA with K Shanmugam, but was not indicated according to Facebook guidelines

In a bid to increase public engagement with the newly passed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA), Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has decided to take a purportedly friendlier approach in discussing the new law by appearing in a video earlier this month with “Premium Lian”, a well-known Internet personality and the alter ego of actress Michelle Chong.

Mr Shanmugam is seen in the video covering concerns regarding the Bill, including who determines what is fake news, what happens if someone shares “fake news”, and the process involved should one be required to go to court to decide whether the disputed content is fake.

The concerns and criticisms levied against POFMA by multiple factions of Singapore society as well as international entities – internet tech giants such as Google, academics, journalists and members of civil society – were, however, not addressed by the Law Minister in the “interview”, as previously highlighted by TOC.

Mothership.sg quoted Ministry of Law Press Secretary Teo Wan Gek as saying that the video’s target audience was those that are difficult to reach out to via traditional or “mainstream” media such as news outlets.

Mr Shanmugam, in his critique of a Straits Times article on Mon (20 May), also insisted that the video was “not intended” to “convey detailed points about the new online falsehoods legislation”, contrary to what he said the article had assumed.

Reiterating Ms Teo’s statement regarding MinLaw’s video outreach efforts being carried out with no payment, or, at most, a “very nominal” payment, Mr Shanmugam said that “that the money spent on such a non-mainstream video is a fraction of what the Government spends on advertisements in the mainstream media”, which, he highlighted, was not reported by ST.

“The Michelle Chong video sought to reach those with limited time or interest and who might have wanted to know only some key points. This included people which mainstream media does not reach.”

Ms Chong also chimed in on the matter under Mr Shanmugam’s post, saying that she was shocked by the article’s premise, which she had perceived as containing “all one-sided views of experts on this subject matter”.

She added that “the article completely and conveniently ignored the video’s over half a million ORGANIC views”, which had garnered 24,000% more likes to dislikes. Although Chong is not “discrediting the comments of 7 to 8 experts” in the article, but she “would have expected and appreciated some objectivity in the article, especially when it was not written as a column or an opinion piece but a seemingly researched one”.

As such, she felt that the authors of this article had “a pre-conceived premise with which they wanted to present the article”, in which she suggested that it should have been published as an opinion piece instead.

However, in her comment, she did not indicate whether the video was a paid partnership between her and MinLaw, and neither was it indicated in the video that it was a sponsored post or a paid partnership.

MinLaw has yet to respond to TOC’s queries as to whether the video was a paid partnership between the Ministry and Ms Chong as of press time.

Mr Shanmugam had earlier in his critique of the ST post rationalised MinLaw’s spending on paid partnership posts with influencers such as Ms Chong by stating that other ministries such as the Ministry of Finance (MOF) have also carried out similar public outreach campaigns.

“This is why the Ministry of Finance tried social influencers to communicate the Budget a couple of years ago. That is why the Government has stepped up ground engagement through such means as Reach, the Silver Generation Office and the Community Network for Seniors,” he said.

However, MOF’s partnership with more than 50 local “influencers” for its Budget 2018 campaign was clearly stated, as seen in the influencers’ post containing the hashtags #SGBudget2018#MOFSG, #REACHSingapore#sponsored, and #MOFSGxStarNgage on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, Inc.

Facebook has outlined some general guidelines as to what should constitute a paid partnership or a sponsored post, and whether said post requires the content uploader to tag the partner or sponsor connected to the post, as seen in the following table:

Based on the above table, only a shared post made in exchange for a shared post and an original post made by a content creator without any partnerships do not require a tag.

In the case of Ms Chong’s “Premium Lian” POFMA video, Mr Shanmugam stated that the Government had sponsored the video, which may consequently warrant a sponsor tag or some other form of indication that MinLaw had sponsored the video, such as the hashtags employed by MOF in its Budget 2018 partnerships with the influencers and also how the page indicated an earlier video was partnered with the Ministry of Manpower.

NoonTalk Media’s “Welcome On Board” videos similarly did not indicate paid partnership with MinLaw or a lack thereof

Separately, in a two-part web episode of “Welcome On Board” by NoonTalk Media, which was uploaded last week, Mr Shanmugam is seen in an “exclusive” interview with the web series’ host Dasmond Koh.

Part 1 of the video started off with Mr Koh claiming to have spotted Mr Shanmugam in Chinatown whilst “looking for breakfast” in the area, and getting the Minister to agree to an interview around “45 minutes later”.

Similarly to Ms Chong’s “Premium Lian” video, however, NoonTalk Media did not explicitly disclose whether its “Welcome On Board” videos featuring K Shanmugam were done for free, or if they were actually paid partnerships or sponsored by MinLaw.

The question of funding behind the videos was raised by one commenter in Part 1 of the interview:

Back in 2016, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament, Dennis Tan Lip Fong asked the Government on the amount that it spent on advertisements and sponsored posts on online media platforms (including but not limited to Facebook, YouTube and Google) and what is the breakdown of this spending by each Ministry annually from 2011 to 2015.

In response, then Ministry for Information and Communication, Assoc Prof Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said, “The Government does not keep track of the total amount ministries spend on online advertisements. However, MCI itself spent approximately $4.3 million last year (or 0.5% of our operating budget) on digital advertisements to support a wide range of major policies and initiatives such as the Pioneer Generation Package, SkillsFuture, Marriage and Parenthood and Integration issues. This was spread out across multiple online media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook and Google.”

In 2015 which was an election year, a deluge of advertisements were produced for the government on its policies and outreach. There is no available breakdown of expenses by each individual ministry on how much they spend on online or even offline advertising.