Facebook Complied with Singapore’s “Fake News” Law

Facebook issued a “fake news” notice on a post made by The States Times Review at the request of the Singapore government. According to the BBC, Facebook said it “is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information.” Singapore claimed the post had “scurrilous accusations”.

The BBC reported that the addition of the “fake news” label was added to the bottom of the original post. The post itself was not altered. The correction label is only visible to Facebook’s Singapore users.

The Singapore law is called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill. It went into effect in October of this year. It allows the Singapore government to order online platforms to remove and correct whatever it considers to be false statements that are “against the public interest”. A person guilty of breaking this law could be heavily fined and face a prison sentence of up to five years.

The same law also bans the use of fake accounts or bots to spread “fake news”. The penalty for this is up to S$1m ($733,700) and a jail term of up to 10 years.

Reuters reported that the Singapore government initially ordered the Facebook user who runs the States Times Review blog, Alex Tan, to issue a correction on the post. The article reportedly contains accusations about the arrest of a whistleblower and election rigging.

Alex Tan, who does not live in Singapore, and says he is an Australian citizen, refused to post the requested correction notice. So, the Singapore government required Facebook to do it. According to Reuters, authorities said that Alex Tan is now under investigation.

Personally, I find this terrifying. In this situation, the government of Singapore used one if its laws on a person who not only does not live in Singapore, but also is a citizen of Australia.

I do not understand why Facebook was so fast to do what the Singapore government wanted it to, especially considering that Facebook refuses to fact-check (or apply a “fake news” warning) on political advertisements from the United States. It is clear that Facebook does not mind “fake news” from other countries – so why does Singapore have so much power over what Facebook puts that label on?