On Monday, Facebook slammed the Singapore’s government’s use of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) as “severe”, noting that it risks stifling free speech. This follows as the tech giant was again ordered under the Act by the Singapore government to block the National Times Singapore (NTS) page which the government said made false statements in a post on 15 May.
NTS was accused by the government on 27 May of making several false and misleading statements in the offending post including that “every criticism has been outlawed by the Singapore government” via POFMA and that the Minister of Law had issued an order under POFMA to ban a video.
On 29 May, the page was designated as a Declared Online Location (DOL) under POFMA which requires that the page carry a notice stating that it has been declared DOL. This is to warn visitors about its history of communicating falsehoods.
The person who runs the site is Mr Alex Tan, who lives in Australia and is a citizen there. However, Mr Tan—who has been the target of several POFMA orders before this—refused to comply with the POFMA directions. As such, the POFMA office proceeded to direct Facebook itself to block access to NTS in Singapore.
Facebook said that it was “legally compelled” to comply with the correction direction. However, a spokesperson added on Monday that “blocking orders like this are severe and risk being misused to stifle voices and perspectives on the internet”.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and we work hard to protect and defend this important civil liberty around the world.”
Earlier in February, Facebook was directed under POFMA to disable access of Singapore users to a different Facebook page run by Mr Tan, States Times Review (STR) which had also been designated a DOL, meaning that the page had carried out three or more different online falsehoods which were subject to correction directions.
Prior to that, Facebook was ordered in January to add a special label to one of STR’s post after Mr Tan refused to comply with the initial correction notice.
Asian Internet Coalition: POFMA poses significant risks to freedom of speech and expression
Back in April 2019 as the POFMA bill was being debated in Parliament, the Asian Internet Coalition (AIC) expressed concerns that the bill would give the government full discretion over what is considered true or false.
AIC is an industry association comprising leading internet and technology companies. Its members are namely: Apple, Facebook, Google, Expedia group, Amazon, LINE, Linkedin, Rakuten, airbmb, Twitter, Yahoo! and Booking.com.
In a statement, the AIC described the legislation as “far reaching”, adding that the level of overreach it has poses “significant risks to freedom of expression and speech and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world”.
Later in May 2019, the AIC noted that the bill in it’s current form contains vague definitions on fundamental terms such as ‘statement of fact’, ‘false statement’ and ‘public interest’ leaves room for a “highly subjective application of the law”. The Coalition urged the government to include checks and balances into the Bill.