Second correction order issued under POFMA, this time to Alex Tan of States Times Review

Wielded for the second time in four days, a correction order has been issued under the Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to the alternative news Facebook page States Times Review (STR) on 28 November.

According to the POFMA office, it was directed to issue a correction direction to Mr Alex Tan Zhi Xiang, who runs the page, to make a correction on its post about NUSSU – NUS Students United Facebook post relating to People’s Action Party (PAP) member Ms Rachel Ong.

Mr Tan is a Singaporean who lives abroad and is also the editor of Temasek Review News and Singapore Herald, both of which were found to breach the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA’s) Internet Code of Practice. As such, these sites have been blocked by the IMDA.

The direction was issued under the instructions of Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement that STR directed to include a correction noting stating that its article contains falsehoods.

The post in question had cited the NUSSU – NUS Students United post about Ms Ong’s alleged religious affiliations and called for her to resign from all executive positions in the organisation in question. STR had cited the original NUSSU Facebook post and commented that one person involved in the matter had been arrested and that the police were investing another.

MHA asserted that these claims are false, saying that no one has been arrested or charged in relation to the post.

A few days after the NUSSU post started to gain traction online, the page was taken down by Facebook on the basis that accounts linked to the page violated the platforms authenticity policies. A Facebook spokesperson said, “We removed this page for violating our authenticity policies,” adding that the page was run by fake accounts.

“We have removed the fake accounts, causing the page to be unpublished. This was the reason for the page being unpublished, not any content that was posted on the page,” the spokesperson added.

At about 1.20pm on Thursday, the States Times Review Facebook page said in an update in the Nov 23 post that “the Singapore government claimed that no arrest was made” and that this was “contrary to the tip off we received”.

MHA said in its statement, “The Government did not request that Facebook take down the Nussu-NUS Students United post or disable the page. It was Facebook which removed the page on its own accord.”

The statement went on to say that STR also made various other “scurrilous” and absurd allegations including about Singapore’s election process.

“Singapore’s electoral system enjoys high public trust. Elections are held regularly and contested. The electoral system and its procedures are clearly spelt out in law, and apply to all political participants, regardless of affiliation,” said MHA.

It added that there are equal opportunities for all political participants during elections to observe and monitor the election process.

“This is not the first time that these websites, as well as States Times Review, have perpetuated outright fabrications, such as misrepresenting Singapore’s position in foreign relations with other countries and casting aspersions on the integrity of public institutions,” added the MHA.

STR, however, has announced that it will not be complying with the correction order. In a separate Facebook post, STR’s editor Alex Tan said: “We have not received any request from the Australian Federal Police or the authorities to take down any article.”

“States Times Review and its editor, who is now a citizen of Australia, will not comply with any order from a foreign government like North Korea or Singapore,” he added.

The first time

This is the second time POMFA has been invoked. A few days ago, political activist Brad Bowyer was issued a correction order for an unrelated post he made on Facebook. Mr Bowyer was instructed to include a statement on his post saying that it contained inaccuracies and include a link to the government’s ‘Factually’ website that countered the statements that the government says are false. The correction order for Mr Bowyer was instructed by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Following the correction order issued to STR, Mr Bowyer took to Facebook again to comment on the unfolding events and use of POFMA.

Mr Bowyer said, “In my mind, the States Times Review can loosely be described as a parody site that often takes a smattering of what is in the social media cycle of the day and embellishes it in colourful ways to create its unique and sensationalised worldview.”

He continued, “I certainly do not take it seriously however I can understand the government’s concern that those new to the States Times Review content may mistake this is as real news and thus feels it must act, although I feel the exact best way to do this is still up for debate.”

Referring to a post he made on Monday following his compliance with the correction order issued to him, Mr Bowyer repeated his advice: “I caution all who comment on our domestic politics and social issues to do so with due care and attention,” adding that not exercising caution could lead to situations like this that STR is facing.

In his earlier statement on Facebook, Mr Bowyer had also said that he has no problems with following the correction order as he feels it is “fair to have both point of views and clarifications and corrections of fact when necessary”.

He clarified in his latest post that while he doesn’t have a problem following the law and does agree that both sides of an argument should be available for review, he does not agree with the position the government is taking or admitting that any false statements had been made on his part.

“Under the POFMA act I must place the correction notice regardless of whether I make an appeal and only if my appeal is approved can I remove it so that would have been my response whatever decision I made,” explained Mr Bowyer.

He said he is currently studying the final implementation of the legislation and it’s process and reserves his right to appeal.

He cautioned, “Matters of law should not be rushed as they can have far-reaching implications.”

Explaining further, Mr Bowyer highlighted how the Law Minister has reassured the public that the government would not abuse POFMA when questioned were raised about the broadness of the legislation and its potential of abuse. However, Mr Shanmugam had also said, “I cannot vouch for how a future government will act.”

“So, it was clear he acknowledged that room for abuse exists,” said Mr Bowyer.

He continued, “Now the government may have felt at the time that the immediate concerns of fake news were such that it was worth these risks in the speed and manner that the legislation was written and enacted but in my case, and I caution to any others who may be affected by it, I think we must all be mindful not only of our own positions today but how our actions may affect those in the future before we proceed.”

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