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Politics

Singapore issues first correction order under 'fake news' law

Opposition politician told to revise 'false' Facebook remarks on state funds

Singapore's Parliament House: A law that allows the government to issue correction orders to individuals and groups found to be posting false information online came into effect in October.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- The Singapore government has ordered an opposition politician to correct a Facebook post in the country's first application of a contentious "fake news" law, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, or POFMA, which took effect in early October.

According to a statement from the POFMA Office, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat instructed the office to issue a correction direction to Brad Bowyer. The directive requires Bowyer to carry the correction notice in full at the top of his Facebook post.

Bowyer is a member of the Progress Singapore Party, a newly-formed opposition party led by former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock.

In his Facebook post, dated Nov. 13, Bowyer pointed out the poor performance of companies invested in by Singapore's two government funds, Temasek Holdings and GIC, and criticized the government of the ruling People's Action Party.

"Mr. Bowyer implies that the Singapore government controls Temasek's and GIC's commercial decisions," the government said on its "Factually" website. "This is false."

"Which companies they invest in, or divest from, is entirely the responsibility of their respective management teams. The government likewise does not interfere in the commercial decisions of Temasek's and GIC's portfolio companies," the government added.

Bowyer has already appended the correction notice to his post, including a link to the government website that states its position.

"I have no problem in following that [government] request, as I feel it is fair to have both points of view and clarifications and corrections of fact, when necessary. I do my best to use public facts and make informed statements of opinion, based on the details I have access to," Bowyer said in a separate post on Monday.

"In general, I caution all those who comment on our domestic politics and social issues to do so with due care and attention, especially if you speak from any place of influence," he added.

POFMA came into effect on Oct. 2. It aims 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 also imposes penalties on those found to be purveying fake news through the use of false online accounts. Individuals can be fined up to 100,000 Singapore dollars ($73,000), jailed for up to 10 years, or both, while companies can be slapped with fines of up to SG$1 million.

The law empowers the government to issue "correction directions," and authorizes it to order those found to be spreading such information to stop.

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