Facebook admits ‘mistakes’ in S’pore

Facebook’s regional representative has told Singaporean MPs that the social-media giant “got it wrong” and it had a “moral obligation” to inform its users earlier about the breach in its policies involving controversial political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Vice-president of public policy Simon Milner told Singapore’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods and home affairs minister K Shanmugam that users should have been kept better informed. Milner said: “It definitely looks like a decision where we made a wrong call. We should have let people know. Our CEO has owned that decision and said that we got that wrong,” he added in reference to Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook would consider banning foreign currencies from being used to pay for Singapore political advertising, Milner said.

He said he expected the currency measure to be part of “the range of things that we do to preserve the integrity” of the voting process.

It would be applied to countries where foreign influence in domestic politics, such as Singapore, was forbidden.

Facebook’s inability to trace sources of funding for political advertising has sparked international pressure, following revelations that Facebook, Twitter and Google could have been exploited by Russia to influence voters. Facebook accepted political adverts in the 2016 US presidential election that were paid for in Russian roubles.

Google separately says it is studying how to discern between low-and high-quality content, using algorithms to tell facts and proper journalism from lies.

Milner said Facebook had a “moral obligation” to inform users earlier about the 2014 and 2015 breach.

He previously faced UK MPs enquiring into fake news stories saying Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data.

Milner said he had been “frank and honest” with the parliamentary committee based on what he “knew to be true at the time”, although in hindsight he could have “provided a fuller answer”.

Shanmugam said the questions before the UK parliament were “very relevant” in “exploring the degree to which Facebook can be trusted to answer questions”.

He said Facebook and the Singaporean authorities should work together to stamp out fake news.

“You want to make profits, which is not a bad thing, and in the process if you can do some good, you would want to do some good as well,” he said.

“We do not have the levers that the US government might have, or a much larger government in Europe might have. But from our perspective we want all of you to succeed, to continue to make money and do well in Singapore.”


A Singapore election rally. Picture credit: Wikimedia