Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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Singapore authorities clamp down on The Online Citizen Asia: Declares its online platforms as declared online locations under POFMA

SINGAPORE — The Minister for Communications and Information, Mrs Josephine Teo, has declared The Online Citizen Asia’s (TOC) website, along with their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages, as Declared Online Locations (DOL) under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 (POFMA).

The Declaration is set to come into effect on 22 July 2023.

TOC, a publication currently operating from Taiwan, was previously held by a Singapore entity. Its operation in Singapore ceased after its license was suspended by Singapore authorities for refusing to comply with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)’s demand to provide the details of its subscribers.

The statement from the Minister states that the Declaration was made following multiple falsehoods communicated on the online locations. The latest being made on 2 May.

This unprecedented declaration follows a series of POFMA correction directions issued by the Government amidst discussions surrounding scandals involving a member of the People’s Action Party and the growing public distrust of the ruling party.

The declaration’s validity will last two years, continuing until 21 July 2025.

Throughout this duration, TOC’s online platforms are required to carry a notice confirming their status as a DOL. The POFMA office emphasized that these notices are intended to warn visitors about TOC’s history of propagating falsehoods.

However, the POFMA office clarified that the declaration does not necessitate the shutdown of TOC’s online operations. The website and social media accounts can remain operational, albeit under strict regulatory constraints, especially regarding monetization.

Under Part 5 of POFMA, it will be considered an offence for TOC to gain financial or other material benefits from operating these online locations. This measure is designed to prevent operators from profiting from the dissemination of falsehoods.

Individuals, whether within or outside Singapore, found guilty of receiving or soliciting financial or material benefits for operating a DOL, could face penalties. These include fines up to S$40,000, imprisonment for up to three years, or both. Other entities could face fines of up to S$500,000.

Service providers and digital advertising intermediaries are instructed to ensure that paid content is not communicated in Singapore via these declared platforms. Individuals and companies are also warned against providing financial support to these platforms if they suspect such support would aid the spread of falsehoods in Singapore.

Violations of these provisions could lead to a fine of up to S$20,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both for individuals. Other entities could face a maximum fine of S$500,000.

Similarly, penalties for providing financial support with the knowledge that it could promote false statements of fact on a DOL could result in a fine of up to $40,000, imprisonment for up to three years, or both for individuals and fines up to $500,000 for other entities.

In all these cases, it is considered a valid defence for the accused to prove their unawareness of the declared status of the online location.

While TOC is not the first declared online location by the POFMA office, its platforms are the first to be listed on the DOL list on the POFMA office’s website.

View the POFMA directions issued since its introduction here

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