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On November 30, after receiving instruction from the Singapore government, Facebook added a “correction notice” to an article posted by the States Times Review. Lawmakers from the city-state requested the correction notice after alleging the article contained false information. The note issued by Facebook and embedded in the article said the social media site “is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information.”
Singapore introduces fake news law
The correction notice on the States Times Review article is the first time Facebook has issued a false information disclaimer under Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill. Introduced in October, the bill allows the Singapore government to order online platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to correct and in some cases remove what it considers to be false statements made “against the public interest.”
The Guardian reports that if officials deem a post damaging to the national interest, the Singapore government can fine companies up to S$1 million ($720,000). Individuals who break the law could face up to ten years in jail. Authorities in Singapore say that free speech “should not be affected by this bill.” Instead, they argue the bill tackles “falsehoods, bots, trolls and fake accounts.”
Critics of the law
For critics, the law heightens concerns that the government seeks to suppress free speech and discussion. The law would “give authorities unchecked powers to clamp down on online views of which it disapproves,” according to Amnesty International.
Singapore has faced long-standing criticism for restricting civil liberties and ranks 151 out of 180 countries in 2019’s World Press Freedom Index. The bill is the “start of the downward slide for what little remains of political and press freedom in Singapore,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.
The correction notice issued to Facebook was only the second time the Singapore government has invoked the fake news law since its introduction. The BBC and The Guardian report that the law was used for the first time when Brad Bowyer, an opposition politician born in the United Kingdom, received orders to correct a Facebook post that “questioned the independence of state investment firms.”
Allegations of arrests and corruption
An article published by the States Times Review on November 23 accused the Singapore government of arresting a whistleblower. The publication also claimed that “elections in Singapore are rigged” and the electoral system is “corrupted.”
The BBC describes States Time Review as a “fringe news site”. The website has about 50,000 Facebook followers and is inaccessible to users outside Singapore.
Singapore government response
Responding to the claims, the Singapore government said, “Misleading and false statements were made by the States Times Review.” According to Singapore authorities, the accusations were “false and baseless.” In a statement, authorities said the government had not arrested anyone. The government also accused the States Times Review of making “scurrilous accusations” against Singapore’s prime minister and its election process.
Following the publication of the article, authorities ordered the editor of the States Times Review to correct the post. They then ordered Facebook to “publish a correction notice” in line with the fake news law passed earlier this year. In the correction notice, Singapore officials insisted that the government’s rebuttal feature at the top of the article. In a government website post, “false” was stamped across screenshots of the original States Times Review post.
Alex Tan of the States Times Review blog said he is an Australian citizen residing outside of Singapore. As a result, Tan said he would not comply “with any order from a foreign government.”
The post remains on the States Times Review Facebook page. Tam added a note stating the Singapore government denies arresting the whistleblower, which “runs contrary to the tip-off we received.”
The correction notice is only viewable to users in Singapore. However, some users said they were unable to see the message. Reports suggest that Facebook could not immediately explain why the notice was unavailable. In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for Facebook said the social media site had complied with the request to label the posts as containing false information “as required by Singaporean law.”
Facebook, which has its Asia headquarters in Singapore, said it hoped assurances that the law would not impact free expression “will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation.” It expressed concerns about the granting of “broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to users.”