Facebook complies with MCI's page restriction request, makes concerns known

Facebook is legally compelling with the Ministry of Communications and Information's (MCI) request to restrict access to the pages of Singapore States Times (SST) and Alex Tan in Singapore. This comes shortly after MCI declared the two pages declared online locations (DOL) under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) on 6 May.

In a statement to Marketing, Facebook's spokesperson said after careful review of the order, it has determined that it is "legally compelled to restrict access" of the pages. That said, the spokesperson added:

Blocking orders such as this are severe and risk being misused to stifle voices and perspectives on the internet.

"Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and we work hard to protect and defend this important civil liberty around the world," the spokesperson said. 

On 6 May, MCI said under the declarations, SST and Tan's Facebook pages are required to carry a notice stating that they have been declared DOLs. According to MCI, DOLs are online locations that have carried three or more different online falsehoods which are the subject of active directions issued by POFMA Office under ministerial instruction within a period of six months, prior to the declaration. A DOL will not be allowed to profit from spreading falsehoods in Singapore.

Visitors to both Facebook pages will be warned that the pages have a history of communicating falsehoods, MCI said. "The declaration will also make it an offence for both SST and Tan to derive benefit from operating the Facebook pages, and prohibit the provision of financial support to them for the purposes of supporting, helping or promoting the communication of falsehoods," it added.

MCI explained that SST's and Tan's Facebook pages have "repeatedly communicated numerous falsehoods", of which at least three on each page were the subject of POFMA Directions from November 2019 to-date. It added that SST and Tan have refused to comply with any of the directions issued to them.

"In recent months, both Facebook pages have communicated falsehoods regarding the COVID-19 virus situation in Singapore. Both Facebook pages are linked to other websites that are operated by Tan, which derive monetary benefits from these falsehoods at the expense of Singaporeans and our society. This is also the second time that Facebook pages operated by Tan have been declared as DOLs," MCI added.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung also instructed POFMA Office to issue two correction directions to SST and Tan on 5 May, as well as a targeted correction direction to Facebook. This concerned a false statement of fact made on the SST Facebook page with respect to the COVID-19 cases in schools, which was also shared by Tan on his Facebook page. According to Channel NewsAsia, the post claimed that the Education Minister "is responsible for numerous infections in schools after he refused to close down the schools". The post also added that "at least 50 students and teachers had become infected with COVID-19 by 3 April 2020 as a result of transmission in schools, which is false", Channel NewsAsia reported.

This is the second time one of the pages that Tan manages has been declared DOL by MCI. On 15 February, the States Times Review was declared DOL under POFMA and was also required to carry a notice.