SINGAPORE: Some people are deliberately spreading fake videos to "foment trouble" in foreign worker dormitories, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Wednesday (Apr 29).
These videos can lead to serious law and order incidents, he said, adding that the authorities were watching individuals who spread the videos "very carefully" and will charge them if a crime was committed.
His comments come as hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have been barred from leaving their dorms to curb the spread of COVID-19, as they make up a majority of Singapore's new cases each day.
Amid this situation, Mr Shanmugam said a number of fake and "very malicious" videos were circulating on social media, with one suggesting that a Bangladeshi worker in Singapore had committed suicide because of a lack of money and work.
Another video purportedly showed two men of South Asian origin fighting in a dorm in Singapore, when in fact the incident took place in Dubai, Mr Shanmugam said.
"It's to create panic, unhappiness, anger and hopefully violence," Mr Shanmugam told reporters via video conference. "When people panic in such situations and get angry, they can of course riot."
Mr Shanmugam said the videos also serve to make Singaporeans believe that foreign workers here were being treated badly, despite authorities ensuring they continued to get paid, three meals a day and "first-class medical treatment".
The minister acknowledged that while it was impossible that every worker would be satisfied with the quality of the free meals, a "majority of them" said the quality of the food they received was good.
"But even now, people are deliberately circulating old photographs of food packets; sometimes food being thrown away from some places, not necessarily Singapore, and saying, 'you see, these workers are being ill-treated'," he said.
"And also encouraging them to come out and complain, even when there's nothing to complain about."
Mr Shanmugam said the authorities were watching the people who spread these videos and photos "very closely" and added "where it's clearly criminal, we will charge".
However, he declined to give details on how many people were being investigated for circulating such posts, only adding that they comprised both locals and foreigners.
Mr Shanmugam reiterated that such posts could lead to "serious" law and order situations, including a "riot-like situation".
"You can see that when people are together and they are not going out to work, a small spark can create a serious incident," he said, referring to the Little India riots that took place in 2013.
"We need to be very careful. We are taking care of them, but at the same time they can be stoked into anger, creating law and order incidents through the use of falsehoods."
Still, Mr Shanmugam said authorities will take action against any kind of falsehood, not just those pertaining to foreign workers.
He referred to a man who was on Monday charged with posting fake "intel" on Facebook regarding how supermarkets would only open two days a week due to stricter COVID-19 measures.
"We will consider what's the appropriate action," he said. "If it doesn't have a substantial public interest element, we might leave it be. What action we'll take depends on the nature of the post and the contents."