The Ministry for Communications and Information (MCI) has drawn flak for taking out a Facebook advertisement for a video it created, using the Punggol Waterway Terraces roof collapse hoax to justify the recently-passed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
POFMA is an anti-fake news law that was passed in parliament on May 8, after a fierce debate that took place over two days. The new law, which provides the government with powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest, gives ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood and whether to take action.
The Facebook advertisement MCI took out draws attention to the viral hoax in 2016 that Punggol Waterway Terraces had collapsed. The video said that “the hoax triggered anxiety amongst the residents,” and urged Singaporeans to “say no to fake news.”
In 2016, a website reported that the roof of Punggol Waterway Terraces had collapsed. It triggered anxiety amongst the residents. It turned out to be a hoax! Find out what happened.#saynotofakenews
Posted by Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) on Monday, 13 May 2019
While some praise the MCI’s efforts, others criticised the advertisement as a “waste of taxpayer dollars” and one that tries to justify POFMA through a “flimsy” example of fake news.
While the publishers and editors of the website All Singapore Stuff had acted irresponsibly in posting up the report of the “collapse” without verification, they did the right thing once they had discovered that the “news” they had put up was fake. They then took down the unverified piece of news after 20 minutes.
It is unclear if POFMA, with all the power it has given to cabinet ministers, is going to able to deal with fake news with the same speed the publishers and editors of the website had voluntarily dealt with it.
And also, as one Hardware Zone forum participant pointed out by posting his own photographaph online, the roof of Punggol Waterway could have appeared collapsed due to an optical illusion.
Regardless of whether it was an optical illusion or not, the All Singapore Stuff’s editing team acted swiftly, suggesting that they did not have any malicious intent to disrupt society in Singapore. Their error could only be that of not having fact-checked and thus having wasted the government agencies’ resources.
In contrast, the Housing & Development Board (HDB), only came out with clarification on the hoax at about 5.45pm — or more than 2 hours and 15 minutes after the hoax surfaced.
So far, the Punggol Waterway Terraces collapse hoax has been the only local case that the government has used to justify POFMA. Asserting that this is a “useless” example, several netizens criticise the way the ministry has tried to justify the controversial law: