Singapore tells Facebook to change post after dissident editor refuses to comply

States Times Review editor Alex Tan, at left. Tan’s Nov. 23 Facebook post stamped “FALSE” by Singapore’s “fake news” center. Images: Alex Tan/Facebook, POFMA
States Times Review editor Alex Tan, at left. Tan’s Nov. 23 Facebook post stamped “FALSE” by Singapore’s “fake news” center. Images: Alex Tan/Facebook, POFMA

Singapore’s government today ordered Facebook to make changes to a post after its Australian-based author refused to comply with a government order to do so.

The authorities want the social media giant to comply with its “fake news” law and correct statements it deems false after Alex Tan Zhi Xiang of the States Times Review refused to do so, Today reports. At issue is Tan’s Saturday post alleging that Singapore’s ruling political party was “fielding a Christian evangelist” in the upcoming general elections, and claiming the authorities had arrested a whistleblower for exposing the candidate’s religious affiliations.

Tan, a naturalized Australian citizen, said in a statement yesterday that he would not comply with the authorities as the website is based in Australia. He said he learned about the so-called arrest from a tip.

“I am happy to go to 10 years’ jail for it, so there shall be no compliance. I will defy and resist every unjust law … the site is based in Australia and it obeys only Australian jurisdiction. No foreign government orders or censorship demands will be acceded with,” Tan wrote

Tan, originally of Singapore, announced that he had obtained Australian citizenship in 2016, the same year the founder of a previous website Tan wrote for was convicted of sedition and jailed for articles he published.

In a separate post, Tan, who lives in Australia, said he had not received a takedown request from police there.

He is the second person to be ordered to make changes under Singapore’s so-called fake news law, ratherly floridly called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

For his report, Tan cited information from a now-deleted page called NUSSU – NUS Students United – an apparent parody page – to allege that the ruling People’s Action Party was deploying a Christian evangelist to garner more support in the coming general elections.

He claimed the page was taken down after a whistleblower was arrested for revealing Ong’s religious affiliations.

“These claims are false and baseless. No one has been arrested or charged arising from the NSU post. The Government did not request that Facebook take down the NSU post or disable the page. It was Facebook which removed the page on its own accord,” the fake news center said in a statement. It said that Facebook took the NUS page down for violating its authenticity policies. 

It’s the second time the new law was invoked since it came into effect in October.

On Monday, Brad Bowyer from the opposition Progress Singapore Party complied with an order to correct a post in which he questioned the independence of state-linked investment vehicle Temasek and sovereign wealth fund GIC.

The States Times Review was set up in 2015 and publishes content on both its Facebook page and website. The website is blocked in Singapore. 

Tan was part of the now-defunct website The Real Singapore, which was shut down in 2016 for violating local broadcasting laws by publishing articles that were “against public interest and national harmony.”

Co-founder Yang Kaiheng was sentenced to eight months’ jail in the same year on a sedition conviction after he confessed to sowing discord between Singaporeans and foreigners on the socio-political website. 

 

Related:

Singapore uses law against misinformation for first time

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