SINGAPORE – The States Times Review (STR) Facebook page has become the first online site to be barred from receiving any financial benefit under Singapore’s laws against fake news, after it refused to put up corrections to falsehoods it published.
The page, owned by Singaporean Alex Tan Zhi Xian, was designated as a declared online location (DOL) on Saturday (Feb 15) by Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.
This comes after STR received correction directions on three separate occasions for publishing falsehoods on various issues, including on the coronavirus situation in Singapore.
In all three instances, Mr Tan ignored the orders to put up corrections alongside his post.
Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), online sites which receive three such directions within six months will be declared a DOL.
The declaration takes effect on Sunday.
In announcing the move, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said: “The STR Facebook page is linked to other websites that are also operated by Alex Tan, which derive monetary benefits from these falsehoods at the expense of Singaporeans and our society.”
The ministry also said in its statement that the page will have to carry a notice warning people that it has a history of communicating falsehoods, among other things.
Mr Tan can be fined up to $40,000 or be jailed for up to three years or both if he does not comply.
In addition, it is also an offence for him to profit from the page, and he can be fined up to $40,000 or be jailed for up to three years, or both, for doing so.
MCI noted that the STR Facebook page “has repeatedly conveyed numerous falsehoods”, three of which were the subject of Pofma directions in February and January this year, and November last year.
Among the erroneous claims the page was issued correction directions for were that Singapore has not been able to trace the source infections in any of the Covid-19 cases and that Singapore had run out of surgical masks.
In another case unrelated to the outbreak of the virus, Mr Tan had made up a story about the police having arrested someone over comments on a potential People’s Action Party candidate.
Under Pofma, Facebook, which is considered a digital advertising intermediary, must also take steps both in and outside Singapore, to ensure that paid content on the STR page is not displayed to users in Singapore.
If Mr Tan does not comply with the declaration, and paid content on the STR Facebook page continues to be displayed to users here, the Government can also direct Internet access service providers to block the page so people cannot access it in Singapore.