Facebook reluctantly complies with Singapores demand to block access to news site page

Facebook has expressed concern after it was ordered by Singapore to block access to a news sites page, saying that while it was “legally compelled” to comply with the order to block access from Singapore, the order was “deeply concern[ing]”, the BBC reports. Facebook added that it felt the directive could stifle freedom of expression.

Singapore said the site, States Times Review (STR) had broken a newly-introduced fake news law and repeatedly conveyed “falsehoods”. The law – Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill (POFMA) – came into effect in October. Had Facebook refused to comply with the government’s orders, under POFMA, it would have been liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding S$20,000 ($14,378/£11,061) a day, up to a total of S$500,000.

The piece at the centre of the dispute was a post relating to the coronavirus outbreak which STR posted on Facebook in January. According to the Singaporean authorities, the post “falsely claimed that Singapore had run out of face masks”. Singapore maintains that is has enough supplies and is coping with the virus.

It ordered STR to issue a correction direction – a notice stating that the information put up was false, but STR did not comply. On 15 February, The Ministry of Communications and Information ordered STR to carry a notice saying that it was a Declared Online Location. This meant anyone who visited the page would be “warned that [it] has a history communicating falsehoods”.

Again, STR did not comply. Authorities said that it instead “changed the vanity URL of the page”, leading the ministry to instead issue a further directive to Facebook to block access to site for Singapore-based users. The notice said Facebook was “legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information”.

In a statement to the BBC, Facebook said: “We believe orders like this are disproportionate and contradict the governments claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool. Weve repeatedly highlighted this laws potential for overreach and were deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore.”