SINGAPORE — Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran has on Saturday (15 February) declared the States Times Review (STR) Facebook page a Declared Online Location (DOL) under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
A Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) media statement said that, under the declaration, the page is required to carry a notice stating that it has been declared a DOL. Visitors to the page will be warned that the page has a history of communicating falsehoods.
The declaration will make it an offence for Alex Tan, owner of the STR Facebook page, to derive benefit from operating the page. It also bans any kind of financial support for the page for purposes of promoting its communication of falsehoods.
This is the first time a DOL has been issued by the POFMA office. It will come into effect on Sunday.
Repeatedly conveyed falsehoods
The STR Facebook page has repeatedly conveyed numerous falsehoods, three of which were the subjects of POFMA directions from November 2019.
The latest instance occurred on Friday, when Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong issued a correction direction to STR Facebook page over a post on Thursday which had numerous falsehoods on the current COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Singapore.
The STR Facebook page has not complied with any of the POFMA directions that it has been served with. MCI said that the page is linked to other websites operated by Tan, which derive monetary benefits from the falsehoods.
Numerous falsehoods in post on COVID-19 outbreak
In the latest correction direction issued by the POFMA office to STR Facebook page on Friday, Health Minister Gan took issue to a post about the 30,000 Chinese work pass holders who have not returned to Singapore.
The post, which was shared more than 300 times, had claimed that:
the Singapore government is unable to trace the source of infection for any of the infected COVID-19 cases in Singapore,
the government is “the only one” telling the public not to wear a mask,
each “China worker” will also get $100 a day for his 14-days leave of absence, fully paid for by the Singapore government.
Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said that she was working hard to bring more workers from China into Singapore,
seven countries have since banned travel to Singapore, citing lack of confidence in the Singapore government’s public health measures.
Debunking each falsehood claim
The POFMA office said that the above-mentioned claims are “entirely false”. It proceeded to debunk each claim:
As of 12pm on Friday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has established through epidemiological investigation and contact tracing that 51 out of the 58 cases have either had travel history to mainland China, or links with previously announced cases.
MOH’s advice – that there is no need for individuals who are well to wear a mask – is in-line with the World Health Organisation's guidance on the use of masks in the community in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. Health authorities in other countries such as the United States and Australia have also expressly advised that they do not recommend that masks be worn by people who are well.
Chinese work-pass holders who are placed on mandatory 14-day leaves of absence do not receive the $100 daily support. Instead, it is their employers who would receive the support under the Leave of Absence Support Programme.
At no time did Manpower Minister Teo say she was working hard to bring more Chinese workers back to Singapore. In fact, the Ministry of Manpower requires employers of work-pass holders with travel history to mainland China to obtain prior approval, so as to slow down their workers’ return to Singapore. The ministry has approved about 200 applications daily for planned arrivals between 9 and 12 February, giving priority to applications in essential services like healthcare, transport and waste management so that operations in these sectors are not compromised. Many more applications were rejected.
As of 8pm on Thursday, no countries have banned travel to Singapore.
Besides the correction direction, the POFMA Office was also told to issue a targeted correction direction to Facebook, the host of the post.
To date, the fake news law has been used to deal with five cases of falsehoods related to the coronavirus outbreak.
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