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POFMA directive issued to Facebook, Twitter, SPH Magazines over 'Singapore variant' of COVID-19 falsehood

POFMA directive issued to Facebook, Twitter, SPH Magazines over 'Singapore variant' of COVID-19 falsehood

A correction notice on Twitter seen on May 20, 2021, about false allegations of a "Singapore variant" of COVID-19.

SINGAPORE: A directive under the POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) has been issued to Facebook, Twitter and SPH Magazines over falsehoods about a "Singapore variant" of COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health said early on Thursday morning (May 20) it is aware of a false statement circulating online by multiple media outlets and social media platforms that implies that a "previously unknown variant of COVID-19" originated in Singapore and/or risks spreading to India from Singapore.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has instructed the POFMA Office to issue general correction directions to the social media giants and SPH Magazines, MOH said.

A general correction direction is an order issued to prescribed Internet intermediaries, telecom and broadcast licensees, and permit holders of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. It would require them to communicate, publish, broadcast or transmit a correction notice to their users in Singapore.

“Facebook, Twitter and SPH Magazines are required to carry the correction notice to all end-users in Singapore who use Facebook, Twitter and HardwareZone.com,” said MOH in a press release.

The HardwareZone forum is operated by HardwareZone, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings.

In response to CNA queries, SPH Magazines said it had "complied with the POFMA Office recommendations to put up the notice" in the HardwareZone forum by 1.20am on Thursday.

A correction notice on HardwareZone seen on May 20, 2021, about false allegations of a "Singapore variant" of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for Facebook said the company had received "a direction from the Singapore Government in relation to a claim they determined contains false information".

"We've carefully reviewed the direction and are legally compelled to issue a correction notice from the Singapore Government to all people using Facebook in Singapore," said the spokesperson.

Facebook issued a temporary prompt on its news feed for users in Singapore on Thursday.

A prompt on Facebook's news feed seen on May 20, 2021, visible only to Singapore users.

Twitter said a specialist global team, which looks into requests from governments and law enforcement agencies, reviewed the "request" from the Singapore Government and found it to be applicable under Singapore law. 

"In-line with our values around openness, transparency and trust, this request will be reflected in Singapore’s section of the Twitter Transparency Report, which we publish twice-yearly," a Twitter spokesperson told CNA.

READ: 'No truth' in India news reports claiming Singapore variant of COVID-19 virus: MOH

NO SINGAPORE VARIANT: MOH

"There is no new 'Singapore' variant of COVID-19. Neither is there evidence of any COVID-19 variant that is ‘extremely dangerous for kids’," said MOH.

The strain that is prevalent in many COVID-19 cases in Singapore in recent weeks is the B16172 variant, which originated in India, added the Health Ministry.

"The existence and spread of the B16172 variant within India predates the detection of the variant in Singapore, and this has been publicly known and reported by various media sources from as early as May 5, 2021," said MOH.

The ministry advised members of the public not to speculate or spread unfounded rumours.

Late Tuesday night, MOH said that there is “no truth whatsoever” in the assertion in several news reports in India that there is a Singapore variant of the COVID-19 virus.

The claims were reported in articles published by the Hindustan Times and NDTV, both from India.

The articles quoted tweets from Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was cited as saying that the new strain is “extremely dangerous for children” and could result in a third wave of infections in India.

READ: MFA expresses 'concerns' to India High Commissioner over Delhi chief minister's comment on 'Singapore' COVID-19 variant

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its concerns to India's High Commissioner over comments made by the Delhi chief minister.

Posting on Twitter on Wednesday, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said Mr Kejriwal's comments were "irresponsible" and that the Delhi chief minister "does not speak for India". 

"Singapore and India have been solid partners in the fight against COVID-19," Mr S Jaishankar added.

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Source: CNA/mi(ac)

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