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Facebook says order to block States Times Review could stifle freedom of expression in Singapore

The social media network stated that while it was “legally compelled" to restrict access to the page, it also has concerns over how POFMA is being applied

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Singapore—Facebook is deeply concerned about the order from the Singaporean Government to block access to the States Times Review (STR). The blocking of access is said to contradict what the Government has said that the country’s law against fake news would not be used for censorship. Moreover, the social media giant said that it could be a precedent for stifling freedom of speech in the country.

After STR refused to follow a number of correction orders the Government issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) directed Facebook to disable access to the STR Facebook page to Singaporean users, under Section 24 of POFMA.

Shortly before this, MCI also issued a directive for the page to be tagged as a “Declared Online Location” (DOL), compelling Alex Tan, who owns the STR page, to say in a notice that it has “a history of communicating falsehoods”. It is the first site to be identified as a DOL.

Mr Tan was given until February 16 to comply with this, which he chose not to. Afterward, MCI issued the order for access to the page to be blocked in the country.

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Read related: States Times Review’s Alex Tan refuses correction direction – “I will defy and resist every unjust law”

ZDNet reached out to Facebook for a comment on the situation, and the social media network stated that while it was “legally compelled” to restrict access to the page, it also has concerns over how POFMA was applied.

A spokesman for the company said on Tuesday, February 18, “We believe orders like this are disproportionate and contradict the government’s claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool. We’ve repeatedly highlighted this law’s potential for overreach and we’re deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore.”

But according to Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information, S Iswaran, swift action is needful at this time due to the proliferation of online falsehoods during the Covid-19 outbreak. Mr Isawran said on February 18, “Because if we don’t, then these falsehoods can cause anxiety, fear, and even panic.”

He added, “On the psychological side, it is essential that… we put out timely information, accurate information, so that our citizens are well informed and understand what is happening.”

Of the three correction directions issued to Mr Tan by the Government since last November, shortly after POFMA came into effect, two were about the spread of the novel coronavirus. Mr Tan ignored all of them.

While a post on the STS page said it was “turning to YouTube for publication”, due to a “censorship ban” in Singapore, it has moved its content to another Facebook page called the Singapore States Times.

In another post, it was announced that “States Times Review will shut down today to meet compliance required by the Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information.

The Real Singapore (TRS) will take over this Facebook page and the ownership of statestimesreview.com. Please bookmark and note the new Facebook page URL: www.facebook.com/THEREALSINGAPORE

TRS will also be under a new writer, Melanie Tan.

Alex Tan
STR Editor

Melanie Tan
TRS Editor”

-/TISG

States Times Review’s Alex Tan refuses correction direction – “I will defy and resist every unjust law”

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