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Facebook Adds Disclaimer to Post That Singapore Deems False

Philip J. Heijmans

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. issued a disclaimer for the first time to a post that the Singapore government said was false, complying with an order under the country’s recently-enacted “fake news” law that critics said could be used to curb dissent.

A government unit instructed Facebook on Friday to correct a States Times Review post accused of using falsehoods to criticize the ruling People’s Action Party. The label by the social media giant said “Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information.” A number of people outside Singapore reported not seeing any disclaimer on the platform.

Singapore introduced its controversial fake-news law this year ahead of general elections that must be held by April 2021, though the ruling party has called for early polls in recent cycles. Officials, including Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, have openly questioned the ability of internet companies to handle widespread misinformation -- a growing scourge of elections around the world.

“As required by Singapore law, Facebook applied a label to these posts, which were determined by the Singapore government to contain false information,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “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.”

Facebook also added links to a “Learn More” page to explain why users were seeing the post, and to a Singapore government website that offered a clarification the post.

The government had previously denounced the report that police had arrested a government whistle-blower and taken down information that exposed a plot to turn the affluent city into a Christian state. The order to Facebook was the third one in a week, with earlier ones sent to the author of the post, Alex Tan, and an opposition party member on a separate issue.

Tan, who runs the States Times Review Facebook page from his home in Sydney, said he was never notified of the government order, but issued a clarification on Thursday after being told of the matter by a friend.

“Technically speaking, I fulfilled what they wanted,” the 32-year-old said by phone. “If you ask me, I think the government is testing their new powers, so basically this would be a good case study.”

Singapore’s Controversial ‘Fake News’ Law Comes Into Effect

Singapore is just one of many nations grappling with how to respond to propaganda and false information online. With general elections just around the corner in the city-state, the leader of a new opposition party worries the law could be used to muzzle dissent, though ministers have said legislation is needed to deal with the spread of misinformation that could undermine free speech.

After coming into force last month, the so-called Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act Office invoked its anti-‘fake news’ law for the first time last week at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. In that case, the government directed opposition party member Brad Bowyer to include a correction notice in a Facebook post on the government’s involvement in investment decisions by Temasek Holdings Pte and GIC Pte, as well as Keppel Corp.’s finances.

Bowyer obliged while also including a link to a 15-point statement on a government website detailing what it deemed “false statements of fact and misleading statements” in his original post.

--With assistance from Yoolim Lee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Philip J. Heijmans in Singapore at pheijmans1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, ;Shamim Adam at sadam2@bloomberg.net, Siraj Datoo

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