Singapore orders Facebook, Twitter to post correction notice on COVID variant falsehoods
Singapore has instructed Facebook and Twitter to carry correction notices on posts claiming there is a local strain of the COVID-19 virus. The order, however, only applies to the platforms’ users in the country.
The Ministry of Health said Thursday that the directive also had been given to SPH Magazines–specifically, its HardwareZone user forum. It would require the online platforms to carry a correction notice to “all end-users in Singapore” who accessed Facebook, Twitter, and HardwareZone.com, said the ministry.
It referred to false statements circulating online that suggested a new variant of COVID-19 had originated in Singapore and was at risk of spreading to India.
“There is no new ‘Singapore’ variant of COVID-19. Neither is there evidence of any COVID-19 variant that is ‘extremely dangerous for kids’,” the Health Ministry said. “The strain that is prevalent in many of the COVID-19 cases detected in Singapore in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated from India. The existence and spread of the B.1.617.2 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.”
The correction notice order was issued by the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office, tasked for overseeing the Act.
The move came days after India’s Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal said on Twitter that a Singapore variant of the virus was particularly harmful to children and could trigger a third wave of infections in India. He also urged his government to cancel flights from Singapore.
In response, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that it “regrets the unfounded assertions” and was “disappointed” that a prominent political figure failed to ascertain facts before making such claims. The ministry added that it met with the High Commission of India to express its concerns.
On its part, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar rebuked Kejriwal, whose is from the country’s largest opposition party Aam Aadmi. Jaishankar said on Twitter: “Irresponsible comments from those who should know better can damage longstanding partnerships. So, let me clarify — Delhi CM does not speak for India.”
He added that both countries had been partners in combating COVID-19 and India was “grateful” for Singapore’s role as a logistics hub and supplier of medical oxygen that India needed during its second wave.
India on Wednesday reported a daily record of 4,529 deaths from COVID-19, exceeding a previous global record in the US where 4,475 deaths were recorded on January 12.
Singapore currently is seeing a second wave in infections, with 34 community cases recorded on Wednesday and the 24th consecutive days such infections had been detected. In total, 31 people had succumbed to the virus in the city-state.
POFMA was passed in May 2019, following a brief public debate, and kicked in October 2019 with details on how appeals against directives could be made. The bill was passed amidst strong criticism that it gave the government far-reaching powers over online communication and would be used to stifle free speech as well as quell political opponents.
Non-compliance to a POFMA directive is an offence under the Act. Offenders could face up to three or five years’ imprisonment, a SG$30,000 or SG$50,000 fine, or both. If bots or inauthentic accounts are used to amplify falsehoods, the potential penalties that could be applied would be doubled. Offending internet intermediaries, meanwhile, could face up to SG$1 million in fines, and could also receive a daily SG$100,000 fine for each day they continue to breach the Act after conviction.