Singapore targets opposition with fake-news law

A Singaporean opposition leader has been forced under the so-called fake news law to amend a Facebook post that criticised state education spending.

The Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) was implemented in October, sparking claims it would be used to muzzle criticism.

Ministers are the arbiters of the law, which carries heavy fines and up to five years in jail.

People’s Voice leader Lim Tean was compelled to change a post that claimed foreign students received more state funding than their domestic counterparts.

The legislation has now been used four times.

Lim said on Facebook that the initial post was in reference to grants and scholarships, not government spending as a whole.

“It is clear to me that POFMA is being used by this government ahead of the GE [general election] to silence its opponents and chill public discussion of unpopular government policies,” the opposition leader said.

Other posts targeted under the new legislation include a claim that the authorities were influencing the state-investment fund and another saying white-collar unemployment was on the increase.

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower criticised the opposition Singapore Democratic Party to alter posts about the Lion City’s employment figures.

A December 2 Facebook post included a graph showing falling employment rates among executives and a report promoting the party’s population policy.

Both the graphic and statement were incorrect, said the ministry, saying that white-collar job losses were at their lowest level since 2014.

The media-rights NGO Reporters Without Borders has called POFMA “totalitarian” and aimed at stifling public debate.

Facebook said it was concerned the law granted broad powers to the authorities.

Posts found to have contravened the law must display a label stating that they contain falsities.

Singapore’s justice minister, K Shanmugam, reassured the public in May that free speech would not be restricted by the law and it would only target “falsehoods”, “trolls”, “bots” and “fake accounts”.

The authorities say Singapore is vulnerable to misleading and inaccurate news because of its diverse ethnic and religious population, along with widespread internet access.

Singapore has been ruled by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since independence from Malaysia in 1965 with the party expected to win the next general election, which is due to be held by early 2021.


Tech-savvy Singaporeans are probably less vulnerable to fake news than most of their counterparts elsewhere in Asean. Picture credit: NeedPix