Under orders from the Singapore government, Facebook has labeled a post by alternate news website States Times Review as containing lies. The post in question, which remains available, contained “scurrilous accusations against the elections department, the prime minister, and the election process in Singapore” according to the government.
The post claims a whistleblower who allegedly exposed a political candidate’s Christian “extremist” affiliations was arrested for fabricating fake news, and the government deleted his Facebook account. The Singapore government denies both counts, saying that no one has been arrested and that Facebook removed the page of their own accord.
The post’s author, Alex Tan, was born in Singapore but is now an Australian citizen living in Australia and can’t be made to alter the post by the Singapore government (though they did try). If he was in Singapore, however, he could have been fined over $700,000 and imprisoned for five years under October’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill, commonly known as the ‘fake news’ law.
While the law’s intention is to limit the amount of fake news Singapore citizens come across, it has raised concerns about freedom of speech. The first time the law was enacted was last Monday when an opposition politician was asked to add a note to his Facebook post about state investment funds saying it “contains false statements of fact.”
Facebook was not required to alter Tan’s post or hide it but add that “Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information.” Their amendment has a tone of displeasure.
Facebook infamously permits outright lies in its political advertisements, as Senator Warren demonstrated in October, except when legally required not to as has occurred in Singapore. In a statement to the BBC, they expressed hope that assurances that the law would not affect freedom of expression would result in a “measured and transparent approach” to future implementation.
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