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Singapore election

Singapore slams fake news law on opposition Facebook post

Censure of Peoples Voice's social media postings is first during election cycle

The law came into effect in October, aiming to combat what the government calls the spread of fake news.    © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- The Singapore government on Thursday ordered an opposition party to correct a video posted on social media, marking the first use of the country's "fake news" law during the general election campaign period that started Tuesday.

The office that oversees the law said a correction directive was issued against social media pages belonging to the opposition party Peoples Voice. Both the party's Facebook page and the YouTube channel belonging to party leader Lim Tean were issued the order because a video on these websites "contained a falsehood regarding government expenditure on foreign students," the office said.

In the video, posted Wednesday, Lim states that Singapore spends a quarter billion Singapore dollars annually to provide free education for foreigners, which the Education Ministry said was "false and misleading."

"While the Ministry of Education spends about SG$238 million [$170 million] on foreign students a year ... the significant majority of these students are still required to pay fees higher than those of local students and/or fulfill a bond obligation after graduation," according to the government's fact-checking website, Factually.

The Facebook and YouTube pages now have a correction notice, saying the video "contains a false statement of fact," as well as a link to the Factually site.

Peoples Voice has fielded 10 candidates including Lim for the July 10 general election, competing with the ruling People's Action Party over parliament seats in three constituencies.

Officially called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, the law came into effect in October, aiming to combat what the government calls the spread of fake news. The sweeping law says that any government minister can determine what constitutes a "false statement of fact," and take action to correct it.

The law was "supposedly aimed at combating disinformation, but instead is used against dissidents and critical voices," ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said in a report on the Singapore election last month. Some opposition groups are calling for a review of the law in their election manifesto.

Due to the COVID-19 safety measures, in-person rallies are not allowed in this election and political parties have used social media more to reach voters.

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