Facebook blocks Singapore users' access to National Times Singapore page, says such orders are 'severe'

Facebook blocks Singapore users' access to National Times Singapore page, says such orders are 'severe'

National Times Singapore Facebook page
A screengrab of the National Times Singapore Facebook page, May 27, 2020. 

SINGAPORE: Facebook said on Monday (Jun 1) that it blocked Singapore users' access to the National Times Singapore (NTS) page as it was "legally compelled to", but that such orders are "severe and risk being misused to stifle voices".

Facebook's comments came after Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran directed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office to order the social media platform to disable Singapore users' accces to the NTS page.

The Facebook page, operated by Alex Tan, had "communicated at least three false statements of fact", said the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) on Saturday. 

In response to queries from CNA, Facebook said that it complied with the instruction after “careful review of the order”.

However, it added that "blocking orders like this are severe and risk being misused to stifle voices and perspectives on the Internet".

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and we work hard to protect and defend this important civil liberty around the world,” said Facebook.

A search by CNA for NTS' Facebook page on Monday came up with the message that the content is unavailable in Singapore “because local laws restrict our ability to show it”.

It remains available overseas.

facebook notice on NTS
A screengrab of the National Times Singapore Facebook page when accessed from Singapore, Jun 1, 2020.

The Facebook page was first issued a correction direction over "false and misleading statements", including a claim that "every criticism" had been outlawed by the Singapore Government under the POFMA legislation.

The direction required NTS to put up a correction notice alongside the original posting.

NTS did not comply with the direction and was later designated as a Declared Online Location (DOL).

Under the declaration, the page is required to carry a notice stating that it has been declared a DOL. Visitors will also be warned that the page has a history of communicating falsehoods.

NTS did not comply with this order either.

The POFMA Office then ordered Facebook to disable Singapore users' access to the page.

This is the fourth Facebook page operated by Mr Tan to be subject to a disabling order. 

The Facebook page of the States Times Review was designated a DOL in February, while that for Singapore States Times and Mr Tan's personal page were declared as DOLs in May.

All three pages did not comply with the declarations and the POFMA Office later issued orders to Facebook to disable access for Singapore users to those pages.

Source: CNA/aa

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