Singapore orders anti-govt website to warn readers of falsehoods

·2 min read
Singapore's government regularly faces criticism for curbing civil liberties but insists the legislation is necessary to stop the spread of damaging falsehoods online (AFP Photo/Roslan RAHMAN)
Singapore's government regularly faces criticism for curbing civil liberties but insists the legislation is necessary to stop the spread of damaging falsehoods online (AFP Photo/Roslan RAHMAN)

Singapore ordered the Facebook page of an anti-government website Saturday to warn readers it regularly posts falsehoods, the first time authorities have taken such action under a tough law against misinformation.

The law gives ministers in the tightly-regulated city powers to order internet platforms to put warnings next to posts they deem false, but activists and tech giants like Facebook fear it could be used to curb free speech.

Authorities have used it several times to force corrections on individual online posts, but this is the first time since the law came into effect in October that an entity is being directed to warn its readers that it is a regular promoter of falsehoods.

A government statement said the information minister had invoked the law to name the Facebook page of The States Times Review (STR) as a "declared online location" with effect from Sunday.

This means it is required to carry a notice warning readers that it "has a history of communicating falsehoods", the statement said.

The notice aims to prompt readers to do additional fact-checking when accessing the page.

According to the statement, STR "has repeatedly conveyed numerous falsehoods" since November last year, three of which had been ordered corrected under the law.

And in the past weeks, its Facebook page also spread falsehoods about the coronavirus situation in Singapore, it said.

The website is run by Alex Tan, who says he is an Australian citizen based overseas.

He has defied the correction orders, prompting the Singapore government to ask Facebook to do so. Facebook has complied.

In a statement in November after posting a correction, Facebook said: "As it is early days of the law coming into effect, we hope the Singapore Government's assurances that it will not impact free expression will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation."

The increased use of the law comes as speculation mounts that elections could be called within months, although a weak opposition is seen as no match for the long-ruling People's Action Party.

Singapore's government, which regularly faces criticism for curbing civil liberties, insists the legislation is necessary to stop the spread of damaging falsehoods online.