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Facebook on why it kept controversial States Times Review post, “We don’t have a policy of removing false content”

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Facebook has stated its reasons for not assenting to requests from the government of Singapore to remove a post that linked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with the 1MDB scandal on the States Times Review (STR) page, saying, “We don’t have a policy of removing false content.”

The post in question linked to an article on STR that contained allegations that Malaysia had inked unfair deals with Singapore. In return, Malaysia would get help in laundering funds from 1MDB.

Officials in Singapore reacted strongly to the post, with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam calling the allegations “absurd” and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) saying that the “article is baseless and defamatory,” and also that it was “false and malicious, and impugned the integrity of MAS as a financial regulator.” MAS also filed a police report against STR.

Read related: Singapore Central Bank files police report against Alex Tan of States Times Review

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On Friday, November 9, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) told Internet service providers within the country to restrict access to the website after STR refused to obey its order to remove the article.

Shanmugan also hit back at the social media platform, saying that Facebook “cannot be relied upon to filter falsehoods or protect Singapore from a false information campaign”.

Facebook top policy official Monika Bickert told media on Tuesday, November 13, “We don’t have a policy of removing false content. We will generally try to counter the virality and surface educational content. There are those two exceptions, where it’s very tied to voter suppression or the imminent threat of physical violence in the offline world.

Other than that, I will say that we do have a process through which governments can submit (something) to us if they think that something violates their laws and we have dialogues with governments back and forth on that. We have a legal team that analyses those requests and then we publish the results of those requests and whether we have removed content – we publish that in a report that we put out every six months.”

Bickert spoke at the first forum on Facebook’s community standards in the Asia-Pacific region and was answering reporters’ questions about the social network’s decision to keep the STR post up.

Facebook’s current policies dictate that it will only take down incorrect information containing threats of imminent violence, or if it would lead to voter suppression. Bickert focused on Facebook’s need to have policies that are equal in different countries all over the globe. “We don’t want policies to apply to certain people but not others. We want everybody around the globe to use Facebook and use it safely.”

Bickert assured that Facebook has processes in place for governments to submit requests should they find content that transgresses laws in their land. There are three main types of content that violate Facebook’s standards, which are: hate speech, adult nudity, and terrorist propaganda.

Another Facebook spokesperson clarified the network’s policy, saying, “We have a responsibility to handle any government request to restrict alleged misinformation carefully and thoughtfully, consistent with our approach to government requests around the world,” she said. “We do not have a policy that prohibits alleged falsehoods, apart from in situations where this content has the potential to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm”.

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