The Minister for Communications and Information has declared the States Times Review (STR) Facebook page as a Declared Online Location (DOL) under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
The Declaration will come into effect tomorrow (16 February 2020). This is the first DOL declared by the Minister since POFMA has been gazetted as law in June last year.
Under the Declaration, the STR Facebook page is required to carry a notice stating that it has been declared a DOL. With the notice, visitors to the STR Facebook page will be warned that the page has a history of communicating falsehoods.
The Ministry of Communications and Information states in its press release that the STR Facebook page — owned by Mr Alex Tan, a Singaporean who is currently based in Australia — has repeatedly conveyed numerous falsehoods, three of which were the subject of POFMA Directions from November 2019 to-date.
It went on to state that the STR Facebook page has not complied with any of the POFMA Directions that it has been served with.
“In the past weeks, the STR Facebook page has also spread falsehoods regarding the COVID-19 virus situation in Singapore. The STR Facebook page is linked to other websites that are also operated by Mr Tan, which derive monetary benefits from these falsehoods at the expense of Singaporeans and our society.” wrote MCI.
Under POFMA, the Minister may declare an online location as a declared online location if three or more different statements that are the subject of one or more active Part 3 Directions or Part 4 Directions, or both, have been or are being communicated in Singapore on the online location within a period of six months.
STR refuses to comply with correction direction
Just this Thursday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) issued a clarification notice to correct and clarify a number of falsehoods that were published by STR regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.
Following that, a correction direction under POFMA, was issued by the Minister of Health to Mr Tan in regards to the falsehoods contained in a post made on 13 Feb on STR Facebook page.
He also ordered that a targeted correction direction be issued to Facebook, which hosted that particular 13 Feb post by STR.
Facebook compiled with the correction direction and posted a notice on the Facebook page stating, “Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information.” and provided a link to the government’s Factually website.
However, Mr Tan wrote on the post, stating that STR will not comply with the direction because the “article remains factual.”
In a separate Facebook post today, Mr Tan made rebuttals over the alleged falsehoods and goes on to state, “As a political exile, the editor of States Times Review will never comply with any of the POFMA order.”
STR website blocked in Singapore back in 2018
The STR website was earlier blocked by Singapore Internet Service Providers (ISPs) after it refused to remove a 5 Nov 2018 article entitled, “Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target”. The article claimed that editor-in-chief of investigative journalism platform Sarawak Report (SR) Ms Clare Rewcastle had mentioned Singapore as “one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and United States” in the 1MDB scandal during an interview with Malaysian media.
MCI ordered a takedown of the article by 9 Nov. Information and Media Development Agency (IMDA) had warned that it will “direct Internet Service Providers to restrict access to the site.”, should STR fail to remove the offending article from its website. It has also shared that it “also asked Facebook to deny access to the post” linked to the offending article.
In its press release, IMDA justified the order on the grounds that the article has “undermined public confidence in the integrity of the Singapore Government,” and is thus deemed to be “objectionable on grounds of public interest,” adding that the allegations present in the article would “constitute prohibited content under IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice.”
Local ISPs complied with the direction and the site was no longer accessible from Singapore a day later.
Offence for Alex Tan to derive benefit from STR Facebook page
The declaration will also make it an offence for Mr Alex Tan to derive benefit from operating the STR Facebook page
Under POFMA, a person must not, whether in or outside Singapore, expend or apply any property knowing or having reason to believe that the expenditure or application supports, helps or promotes the communication of false statements of fact in Singapore on a DOL.
If charged and convicted, an individual will face a penalty of a fine not exceeding $40,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both; or for an entity to a fine not exceeding $500,000.
Also a digital advertising intermediary or an internet intermediary must take reasonable steps to ensure that it does not facilitate the communication in Singapore of any paid content on the DOL, else an individual would face a penalty of a fine not exceeding $20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both; or for a corporate body, a fine not exceeding $500,000.