Not too long ago, opposition parties, the alternative media outlets and political commentators alike had raised concerns in relation to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA). This was when the legislation was in bill form and not yet law. Now that it has been passed and used, have the fears voiced by the critics come to pass?
Recently, Brad Bowyer, a member of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) made some comments which were found to be contrary to the POFMA.
“Bowyer’s post was linked to an article on the ZeroHedge blog titled “Owner Of ‘Salt Bae’ Steakhouse Chain Is Scrambling To Find A Partner At A $1 Billion Valuation”. In it, he commented, “Now we see the idiocy that was the Temasek investment in Salt Bae coming home to roost”. Among other assertions, Bowyer added, “We also saw the recent canning of the Amaravati city project part of the S$4 billion already dumped into Andhra Pradesh by GLCs (government-linked companies) and related parties so India has not been so good an investment choice after all.”
In all fairness, his comments were not entirely factually accurate and technically this is in breach of POFMA. Bowyer has owned up to this and apologised. He has also complied with the instructions issued by the authorities. However, while his comments have been deemed “falsehoods”, the sentiments behind it could arguably be genuine? His choice of words and fact checking however could certainly have been better.
In relation to Bowyer’s “Salt Bae” comments, it has been clarified by Factually, the government fact-checking website that the Salt Bae chain of restaurants is owned by a company called D.ream International BV, which operates 60 restaurants throughout the world via four operating subsidiaries. “Temasek invested in D.ream International BV, and not in one of D.ream International BV’s shareholders called Doğuş Holding A.Ş. The company that is reportedly in difficulties according to the article cited by Mr Bowyer, is Doğuş Holding A.Ş., and not D.ream International BV.” The inaccuracy made by Bowyer is not in contention. He definitely made an error. His statement was loose and general. But, to the layman, does the sentiment change? If Doğuş is a shareholder of D.ream, wouldn’t its financial difficulties not have a knock on effect on D.ream which could arguably affect Temasek’s investment in it?
I understand the concern that the government has over malicious falsehoods calculated to create problems and I totally think that comments should be fact checked properly and accurately presented. However, I do wonder if Bowyer’s intention behind those statements would fall within the category of malicious falsehoods. Wouldn’t a clarification statement from the authorities suffice? Would it have been different if Bowyer had said that Temasek’s investment in D.ream may have been affected by the financial difficulties of Doğuş and queried if a comprehensive enough due diligence exercise was carried out by Temasek before the investment was made? Arguably, the sentiment behind the statement would then be the same but with a different choice of words?
In relation to the amount of investment made into Andhra Pradesh, I agree that Bowyer is way of the mark in the figures. There is a big difference between S$4 billion which he asserted and the few million dollars clarified by Factually. However, the sentiment I believe Bowyer was trying to convey is that a lot of money was pumped into Andhra Pradesh and to the layman, billions and millions may not make that much of a difference in their world view. It is more money than they can ever dream of or connect with anyway. So while the information was inaccurate, was the intention behind it to create a falsehood?
The government is technically correct of course. However, I do wonder if facts and sentiment have been muddied as a result of POFMA. Could a sentiment ever be considered a falsehood? Only time will tell if the POFMA will dumb down sentiment.
For now, politicians and critics alike should choose their words carefully.