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Govt brands TOC a fake news site, cuts off funding for two years

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SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has declared The Online Citizen Asia (TOCA), formerly known as The Online Citizen (TOC), as a Declared Online Location (DOL) under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 (POFMA).

Revealing that the POFMA declaration was issued by Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo, MCI said that the declaration¬†was initiated in response to the dissemination of multiple “falsehoods” on TOCA’s website, Facebook page, Twitter account page, and LinkedIn page.

The declaration, which comes into effect from 22 July, will be in force for two years until 21 July 2025. During this period, TOCA’s online locations are required to display a notice informing visitors that they have been designated as DOLs.

The notice is meant to serve as a warning to users, indicating that TOCA has a history of disseminating false information on these platforms.

TOCA’s website and social media pages will not be required to cease operations. However, the statutory requirements under Part 5 of POFMA, requires DOLs to be demonetized. This means that TOCA and its operators cannot profit financially from the communication of falsehoods on these online locations.

Under the terms of the Declaration, it is deemed an offense for the operator of a DOL to derive any financial or material benefit from the operation of these online locations.

Service providers and digital advertising intermediaries must also take reasonable steps to ensure that any paid content they include or cause to be included on these DOLs does not reach audiences in Singapore.

Individuals and companies are prohibited from providing financial support to these DOLs if they are aware or have reason to believe that such support would contribute to the spread of falsehoods in Singapore, as well.

MCI has officially advised members of the public to remain vigilant of TOCA’s track record in disseminating misinformation and to fact-check information published on these online locations.

The designation of TOCA’s online locations as DOLs is based on Section 32 of POFMA, which outlines the criteria for such declarations.

MCI said that TOCA’s website and social media pages have each met the requirements, having carried at least three distinct false statements of fact communicated within six months prior to the Declaration.

Some of these statements were the subject of active POFMA Correction Directions on 7 May 2023 and 19 May 2023. MCI has published a notice of the Declaration in the Government Gazette, and a registry of DOLs can be found on the POFMA Office website.

The owner or operator of TOCA’s DOLs, or any person with editorial control over these online locations, may apply to the Minister Teo to modify or cancel the declaration. In the event of the Minister’s refusal, an appeal can be made to the High Court.

In Singapore, four online locations have previously been declared as DOLs, namely the States Times Review Facebook Page (15 Feb 2020), Singapore States Times Facebook Page (6 May 2020), Alex Tan’s Facebook Page (6 May 2020), and National Times Singapore Facebook Page (28 May 2020).

All four of these pages were operated by Alex Tan, who failed to comply with the DOL requirements, leading to the Government getting Facebook to block access to these pages within Singapore.

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