Thursday, October 01, 2020

Facebook 'deeply concerned' about Singapore order to block page

Feb 19. 2020
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By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Yoolim Lee, Philip J. Heijmans · BUSINESS, WORLD, ASIA-PACIFIC

Facebook said it was "deeply concerned" about how a Singapore government order to disable access to a blog page on its social media website could set a precedent for stifling free speech.

The government had ordered Facebook this week to block The States Times Review's page in Singapore, saying the blog had repeatedly conveyed falsehoods and not complied with any of the directions that it had been served with under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

Facebook said it is legally compelled to comply with the order to restrict access to the page in Singapore after a 'careful review.' However, "we believe orders like this are disproportionate and contradict the government's claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool," a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Singapore's so-called fake news law has been used several times since it was enacted in October. Some opposition politicians are worried the law will be used to suppress dissent ahead of elections that must be held by April 2021, though ministers have said the legislation is needed to deal with the spread of misinformation that could undermine free speech.

"We've repeatedly highlighted this law's potential for overreach and we're deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore," the Facebook spokesperson said.

Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran, said Tuesday at an event The States Times Review did not comply after its Facebook page was required with effect from Feb. 16 to carry a notice that warned the page has a history of communicating falsehoods.

"What they did was they changed the vanity URL, which is not the requirement under the law," he said. "Therefore we had issued a further direction under Section 34 of the Act to Facebook to disable access - for Singaporeans to not be able to access this site."

Iswaran said circumstances like the ongoing coronavirus outbreak showed the need to be able to act quickly against falsehoods. "The reason why we need to act swiftly is because if we don't, then these falsehoods can cause anxiety, fear, and even panic," he said.


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