POFMA Office issues Targeted Correction Direction to Facebook, commences investigations against States Times Review editor

Following the States Times Review (STR) founding editor Alex Tan Zhi Xiang’s non-compliance with the Correction Direction (CD) issued by the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office on Thu (28 Nov), the Minister for Home Affairs has instructed the Office to issue a Targeted Correction Direction (TCD) to Facebook.

The POFMA Office, in a statement on Fri (29 Nov), said that under the TCD, Facebook will be required to publish a correction notice for a Facebook post that was published on the STR page — which is run by Mr Tan — on 23 Nov at 8.05am.

The Office also said that it has begun investigations against Mr Tan for his failure to comply with the CD issued on Thu.

The POFMA Office was earlier instructed by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam to issue a correction direction to Mr Tan on the STR page’s post, in relation to a post by the NUSSU – NUS Students United Facebook page on Rachel Ong, a member of the People’s Action Party (PAP).

Mr Tan, however, in a Facebook post on Thu 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 post in question cited a post by the NUSSU – NUS Students United regarding Ms Ong’s alleged religious affiliations, and called for her resignation from all executive positions in the organisation in question.

STR had cited the NUSSU – NUS Students United Facebook post, and commented that one person involved in the matter had been arrested and that the police were investigating another.

MHA denied the aforementioned claims, and insisted that no one has been arrested or charged in relation to the post.

Under Section 15(1) of POFMA, an individual who is found to have failed to comply with a Part 3 Direction — whether in or outside Singapore — shall be subject to a fine not exceeding S$20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both, or to a fine not exceeding S$500,000 in any other case.

A person or an officer, employee or agent of the person is not considered to be liable under POFMA, however, for doing or omitting to do any act, if the act is done or omitted to be done with reasonable care and in good faith and for the purpose of complying with or giving effect to the Part 3 Direction.

Facebook removes fake accounts operating NUSSU – NUS Students United’s page, citing violation of “authenticity policies”

A few days after the NUSSU – NUS Students United post gained traction online, Facebook took down the “fake accounts” linked to the page for violating its “authenticity policies”, which caused the page to be automatically unpublished.

A Facebook spokesperson told Yahoo! Singapore News: “We removed this page for violating our authenticity policies.”

“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.

Commenting on the takedown, MHA said on its Facebook page: “The Government did not request that Facebook take down the NSU post or disable the page. It was Facebook which removed the page on its own accord.

“As reported by the Singapore media on 23 November 2019, Facebook did so as the NSU page violated authenticity policies, and the fake accounts linked to the page failed Facebook’s community and authenticity guidelines,” the Ministry added.

“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,” MHA said.

The STR Facebook page alleged on Thu that the post in which “the Singapore government claimed that no arrest was made” was “contrary to the tip off we received”.

PSP member receiving first Correction Direction cautions “all who comment on our domestic politics and social issues to do so with due care and attention”

The CD issued to STR and Mr Tan is the second one made in four days. On Mon, the POFMA Office issued its first CD to Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer regarding a Facebook post he made, in which he questioned the independence of Temasek Holdings and GIC.

Mr Bowyer was instructed to include a statement on his post saying that it contained inaccuracies, and to include a link to the government’s ‘Factually’ website. The issuance of the CD for Mr Bowyer was instructed by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Following the correction order issued to STR, Mr Bowyer said on Facebook: “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 Mon, 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 the same situation faced by STR.

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 agrees 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, 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.

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