On Wednesday evening (6 May), Mr S. Iswaran, the Minister for Communications and Information declared the Singapore States Times’ (SST) and Alex Tan’s Facebook pages Declared Online Locations (DOL) under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
The Declarations will come into effect on 7 May 2020.
Under the Declarations, the SST’s and Tan’s Facebook pages are required to carry a notice stating that they have been declared DOLs.
With the notice, visitors to both Facebook pages will be warned that the pages have a history of communicating falsehoods. The Declaration will also make it an offence for both SST and Tan to derive benefit from operating the Facebook pages, and prohibit the provision of financial support to them for the purposes of supporting, helping or promoting the communication of falsehoods.
As stated in the POFMA Office’s statement, SST’s and Tan’s Facebook pages have repeatedly communicated numerous falsehoods, of which at least three on each page were the subject of POFMA Directions from November 2019 to-date.
The POFMA office further states that SST and Tan have refused to comply with any of the Directions issued to them. It added that both Facebook pages have recently communicated falsehoods regarding the COVID-19 virus situation in Singapore.
Both Facebook pages are linked to other websites that are operated by Tan, which derive monetary benefits from these falsehoods at the expense of Singaporeans and the society.
This is also the second time that Facebook pages operated by Tan have been declared as DOLs
Under POFMA, a person who, whether in or outside Singapore, solicits, receives or agrees to receive any financial or other material benefit as an inducement or reward for operating a declared online location shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction — in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding $40,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both; or in any other case, to a fine not exceeding $500,000.
The same penalty will be applied for a person who supports, helps or promotes the communication of false statements of fact in Singapore on a declared online location.
Both pages were issued a Correction Direction on 5 May
On 4 May, SST published a Facebook post stating that “Education Minister Ong Ye Kung is responsible for numerous infections in schools after he refused to close down the schools. The schools were only closed on April 3rd, but at least 50 students and teachers were already infected.”
This post was also shared by Tan on his Facebook page.
On 5 May, POFMA issued two correction directions to the STT Facebook page and Tan for communicating a falsehood published by Singapore States Times on COVID-19 cases in schools, which imply that at least 50 students and teachers had become infected with COVID-19 by 3 April 2020 as a result of transmission in schools.
The POFMA office noted that as of 3 April, 69 students and staff in MOE schools, including the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), were reported to have been infected with COVID-19. Based on contact tracing and investigations by MOH, all the cases (except for 3 which are still unlinked) were attributed to transmission via overseas travel, within households, social settings, and a non-school workplace (for a part-time student).
POFMA office states that this meant that none of the 69 infections were traced back to MOE schools, including the IHLs.
The two Facebook posts are no longer viewable as of the publication of this article.