Staff Reporters
May 11, 2020

Facebook blocks Singaporeans' access to two pages, but expresses free speech concerns

"Blocking orders like this are severe and risk being misused to stifle voices and perspectives on the internet," Facebook said.

Facebook blocks Singaporeans' access to two pages, but expresses free speech concerns

Facebook has blocked users residing in Singapore from accessing two pages that the government said had "repeatedly conveyed falsehoods" and refused to comply with correction orders.

The social network told Campaign Asia-Pacific in a statement that it was "legally compelled to restrict access" to the two pages: those of anti-establishment publisher Singapore States Times and its owner Alex Tan, a Singaporean who lives in Australia. It was asked to do so under the government's 'fake news' bill, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

“After careful review of the order, Facebook has determined that we are legally compelled to restrict access to two Pages in Singapore," it said.

But the Facebook spokesperson added that "blocking orders like this are severe and risk being misused to stifle voices and perspectives on the internet".

"Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and we work hard to protect and defend this important civil liberty around the world," the spokesperson said.

Facebook blocked those residing in Singapore from accessing another page operated by Tan, States Times Review, in February. It was the first time the POFMA office had issued a 'disabling order' to Facebook, and the tech giant expressed censorship concerns then.

At the time, Facebook said blocking orders like this "are disproportionate and contradict the government’s claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool".

"We’ve repeatedly highlighted this law’s potential for overreach, and we’re deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore," a company spokesperson said at the time.

Tan and his news sites have been constantly targeted by POFMA since it first came into force in October last year. But he has refused to comply with all the orders to publish corrections and carry Declared Online Location (DOL) notices (issued when a page has, according to the government, carried three or more different online falsehoods).

Under POFMA, the government can order internet intermediaries whose service was used to communicate a 'falsehood' that affects the public interest to issues corrections on posts or block content altogether. Facebook was first asked to add a disclaimer to one of Tan's posts in November

For Facebook, failure to comply with the POFMA orders will result in a fine of up to SG$20,000 for each day of non-compliance, up to a total of $500,000. But it is a complex situation for Facebook, whose founder claims to be a staunch advocate of free speech.

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