Wuhan virus: MTI, MOH issue correction directions over fake news

·Editorial team
·3-min read

SINGAPORE — Two Singapore ministries have issued correction notices on Friday (31 January) under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) over falsehoods concerning the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

Falsehood on Singapore running out of face masks

The Minister for Trade and Industry (MTI) has instructed the POFMA Office to issue a correction direction to Alex Tan, who runs the States Times Review Facebook page, regarding a post on Thursday morning which falsely claimed that Singapore had run out of face masks.

It also instructed the agency to issue a targeted correction to Facebook.

The States Times Review’s post claimed that Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min had said the Republic has run out of face masks. According the POFMA office, the post also insinuated that Lam was blaming Singaporeans for “insensible and irresponsible” use of surgical masks.

Tan also claimed that the country ran out of masks last Sunday, less than three days after the first confirmed case.

However, Lam had put up a Facebook post on Tuesday of his visit to a warehouse which showed part of the government stockpile of surgical masks. His post also stated that there is sufficient supply of masks if people use them sensibly and responsibly.

Singaporeans contracting virus without going to China?

The Ministry of Health (MOH) also invoked POFMA office over an article by the AB-TC City News website which alleged that five Singaporeans contracted the Wuhan virus without going to China.

The article was subsequently shared by opposition politician Lim Tean and the “Say No to PAP” Facebook page.

According to health authorities, as of 9pm on Thursday, there is no local transmission of the Wuhan virus in Singapore. All confirmed cases in Singapore to date are Chinese nationals who travelled from Wuhan.

AB-TC City News will be required to carry a correction notice alongside the article. While Lim and the “Say No to PAP” Facebook page have taken down their posts, they are still required to carry a correction notice on their respective Facebook pages.

Temporary exemptions to intermediaries lifted

The Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) has also lifted temporary exemptions for several Internet intermediaries from POFMA’s general correction direction (GCD) requirements, with effect from Friday.

A GCD may be issued by the POFMA office to prescribed intermediaries when there is a false statement communicated in Singapore and it is in the public interest to issue the direction.

The affected intermediaries are: Facebook, Google Search, Baidu, Twitter, and HardwareZone. Should they receive a GCD from Friday onwards, they may be required to put up a correction notice to all users of their respective services in Singapore.

These intermediaries were temporarily exempted from GCD requirements when POFMA took effect in October last year to give them time to put in place the necessary arrangements and technological measures to comply with certain requirements of the act.

MCI said in a media statement on Thursday that the lifting of the temporary exemptions is “critical” given the evolving situation with the Wuhan virus.

“The Government is prepared to use all tools at its disposal to provide the public with accurate and up-to-date information, and to deal with falsehoods that may cause panic or confusion,” it added.

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