Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Fri (31 Jan) has instructed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) Office to issue a Correction Direction to States Times Review‘s Alex Tan for a Facebook post claiming that Singapore had run out of face masks.
Facebook was also issued a Targeted Correction Direction for the post.
According to Gov.sg on Thu (30 Jan), contrary to the claims made in STR‘s Facebook post, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Health Lam Pin Min had clearly stated in his own Facebook post on 28 Jan that “there is sufficient supply of masks” if people use them “sensibly and responsibly”.
The Gov.sg clarification added that Dr Lam “was clearly pictured in a warehouse which showed part of the Government stockpile of surgical masks”.
Many online users however appear to disagree with the Senior Minister’s assurance, as seen in comments on CNA‘s Facebook page, saying that most pharmacies and shops in Singapore have run out of face masks.
Separately, Mr Chan the same day told a press conference that the Singapore Armed Forces will begin packing more than 5.2 million surgical masks for distribution to “local resident households”. Each household will receive four surgical masks per household starting Sat (1 Feb).
Mr Chan and Minister Lawrence Wong also told the joint press conference that the Government had distributed over 5 million surgical masks from the stockpile to retailers over the last nine days, all of which have been taken up immediately.
“Although the stockpile is currently sufficient to meet the needs of our public healthcare institutions, we must continue to manage the private usage rate and prioritise the allocation of surgical masks to those who need it the most. This includes our healthcare workers on the frontline and the vulnerable within our society.
“The Ministry of Trade and Industry is actively working on identifying new suppliers of surgical masks and will continue to ensure that existing lines of supplies are kept robust,” according to Gov.sg.
Fourth correction direction issued pertaining to false information on Wuhan coronavirus situation in S’pore since Mon
The POFMA correction order issued to Mr Tan was made three days after a separate correction order was initiated by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong to SPH Magazines Pte. Ltd. — the operator of the HardwareZone.com.sg forum — on Mon (27 Jan).
The post, which had first appeared on the forum last Sun (26 Jan), had falsely stated that a man has died from the Wuhan coronavirus infection in Singapore.
A spokesperson for SPH Magazines told The Straits Times on Tue (28 Jan) that SPH Magazines — which manages the HardwareZone forum — has “promptly complied” with the POFMA correction order.
HardwareZone had also published the correction notice with a link to the Government’s clarification regarding the falsehoods found in the offending post, the spokesperson added.
The SPH Magazines spokesperson also noted that the thread was removed “in line with” HardwareZone’s “community guidelines” prior to receiving the POFMA correction order.
“Forum users have also been reminded to post responsibly,” the spokesperson added.
Most recently on Fri (31 Jan), Mr Gan instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Correction Direction against AB-TC City News for publishing an article alleging that five Singaporeans had contracted the Wuhan Coronavirus without going to China.
People’s Voice chief Lim Tean and ‘Say No to PAP’, who had shared the article, were similarly issued Correction Directions for the post.
“While both parties have taken down their Facebook posts containing the falsehood, they are still required to carry a correction notice on their respective Facebook pages.
“This will ensure that persons who had viewed their posts are informed of the facts,” according to the POFMA Office in a statement today.
On 30 Jan 2020, a website called ‘City News’ published an article titled “BREAKING NEWS: Singapore records six more coronavirus case, total of 16 now” (https://ab-tc.com/singapore-coronavirus-cases/) claiming that five Singaporeans have contracted the Wuhan coronavirus without going to China.
As of 9pm on 30 Jan 2020, there is no local transmission of the Wuhan virus in Singapore. All confirmed cases in Singapore to date are Chinese nationals who travelled from Wuhan.
On Tue, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Targeted Correction Direction against two posts that falsely claimed that there was a suspected case of Wuhan coronavirus infection at Woodlands MRT station, and that the public should avoid the station.
The posts, which were published by different accounts, also falsely claimed that Woodlands MRT station was closed for disinfection.
“Woodlands MRT was not closed on 28 January 2020; it was fully operational,” according to a statement by the POFMA Office on Tue.
MCI lifts temporary exemption of internet intermediaries from POFMA requirements
The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) announced that it will lift the temporary exemption of Facebook, Google Search, Baidu, Twitter, and HardwareZone from General Correction Direction (GCD) requirements under POFMA.
Based on POFMA, a GCD may be issued where a false statement of fact — which is determined by any minister — has been communicated in Singapore, and it is in the public interest — from the minister’s perspective — to issue the GCD. GCDs may only be issued to prescribed intermediaries.
An intermediary that receives a GCD may be required to communicate a correction notice to all users of its service in Singapore.
The named internet intermediaries were given temporary exemption when POFMA took effect in October 2019.
This temporary exemption will be lifted with effect from today.
With the lifting of this exemption, Facebook, Google Search, Baidu, Twitter, and HardwareZone, will be required to carry GCDs if the Act is applied to them.
MCI justified the lifting of the temporary exemption by stating that this action is critical, given the evolving situation with the Wuhan Coronavirus.
“The Government is prepared to use all tools at its disposal to provide the public with accurate and up-to-date information, and to deal with falsehoods that may cause panic or confusion.
“We have worked closely with the relevant technology companies, and appreciate the industry’s support and cooperation in our national response to this challenging situation.” said MCI in a statement.
Under POFMA, entities failing to comply with the Direction will be subject to a fine not exceeding $1 million upon conviction.