Health Minister orders POFMA correction directions to States Times Review, Facebook over COVID-19 post

Health Minister orders POFMA correction directions to States Times Review, Facebook over COVID-19 post

People wearing mask at Orchard Road Singapore Feb 3 (1)
People were seen wearing masks at Orchard Road, Singapore on Feb 3. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has instructed that a correction direction be issued to Mr Alex Tan, the owner of the States Times Review (STR) Facebook page, said the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office on Friday (Feb 14). 

He also ordered that a targeted correction direction be issued to Facebook, which hosted the Feb 13 post by STR that is said to contain "multiple false statements" about the COVID-19 situation. 

STR's correction direction requires it to carry a correction notice alongside the article, while Facebook's targeted correction direction requires it to publish a correction notice on the relevant STR Facebook post.

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Facebook had issued a correction notice last year for another STR post, in a first for the platform.

According to a Factually article on the Gov.sg website, the COVID-19 post claimed five points that were "entirely false". 

GOVERNMENT REFUTES CLAIMS

The post claimed that the Government has been unable to trace the source of infection for any of the infected COVID-19 cases in Singapore. 

The Government refuted this on Factually, saying that as of noon on Feb 13, 51 out of the 58 confirmed cases had been determined to have either recent travel history to mainland China or links with previously announced cases. 

The post claimed the Government is "the only one" telling the public not to wear a mask. 

READ: Coronavirus in Singapore - Trends, clusters and key numbers to watch

However, MOH's advice specifying there is no need for individuals who are well to wear masks is in line with COVID-19 guidelines by the World Health Organization. 

Health authorities in other countries such as Australia and the United States have also advised that they do not recommend masks to be worn by people who are well, according to the Factually article. 

A third claim made in the post was that "each China worker" would get S$100 a day for 14 days of Leave of Absence, fully paid by the Government. 

However, Chinese work pass holders placed on mandatory LOA do not receive the S$100 daily support, said the article. "It is their employer who would receive the support," it said, adding that the Leave of Absence Support Programme covers all workers regardless of nationality. 

READ: Fake news makes disease outbreaks worse, study finds

The STR post also claimed that Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said she was working hard to bring more workers from China into Singapore. 

"At no time did (Mrs Teo) say she was working hard to bring more Chinese workers back to Singapore," Factually stated. 

"In fact, the Ministry of Manpower requires employers of work pass holders with travel history to mainland China to obtain prior approval so as to slow down their workers' return to Singapore," it added. 

According to Factually, MOM approved about 200 applications daily for planned arrivals between Feb 9 and Feb 12, giving priority to applications in essential services like healthcare, transport and waste management so that operations in these sectors are not compromised. 

Many more applications were rejected, it added.

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Finally, the article claimed that seven countries had banned travel to Singapore when in fact, no countries had done so as of 8pm on Thursday. 

In its statement, the office responsible for the administration of the law under POFMA advised members of the public not to speculate and/or spread falsehoods and rumours. 

"They should rely on formal Government channels such as the Ministry of Health’s official website and Gov.sg WhatsApp service to get accurate and up-to-date information on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore. Any suspected falsehoods can be reported to info@pofmaoffice.gov.sg."

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Source: CNA/ic(hs)

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