Singapore orders Facebook to correct user’s post under its anti-fake news law

Robie de Guzman   •   November 29, 2019   •   428

Singapore – The government of Singapore on Friday ordered American social media giant Facebook to correct a post made by one of its users, marking one of the city-state’s first attempts to enforce its new law to combat so-called “fake news.”

The Singaporean minister for home affairs, K Shanmugam, said in a statement he had instructed the office administering the law – known as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act – to issue a Targeted Correction Direction, which requires the company to publish a correction notice on the user’s Facebook page.

The post in question had been published last Saturday on the States Times Review page, administered by blogger Alex Tan Zhi Xiang.

The post included allegations surrounding the detention of a supposed whistleblower as well as accusations of election tampering, which the Singaporean government derided as “scurrilous” and “false” claims.

The POFMA office on Thursday told Tan to correct his post, but the blogger, who has said he is an Australian citizen, refused to do so.

The controversial post included the claim that, “in a bid to garner Christian support for the ruling party dictatorship and possibly turn Singapore into a Christian state, the PAP (People’s Action Party) government will be fielding a Christian evangelist in the upcoming general election.”

“The whistleblower who exposed the PAP candidate’s Christian affiliations has since been arrested, and facing police charges for ‘fabricating fake news,’ it added.

The PAP has uninterruptedly ruled the former British colony since its independence in 1965, gaining a monopoly on power via sweeping supermajorities in every single general election held over the past half-century.

“POFMA Office has also commenced investigations against Mr Tan for failing to comply with the Correction Direction,” the ministry’s statement added.

Under the law, Facebook could face a fine of up to 1 million Singapore dollars ($732,000) if it refuses to issue the correction. The company has yet to comment on the case, though the STR’s post remained published without amendments on Friday afternoon.

Facebook had previously expressed its concern with “aspects of the new law,” which it said granted “broad powers” to the executive “to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and to push a government notification to users.”

The penalties prescribed by the POFMA include up to 10 years in prison for the worst offenders.

The only previous case that fell under the act – which was passed by the legislature in May and came into effect on Oct. 2 – involved opposition leader Brad Bowyer, who quickly complied with the POFMA office’s correction request.

Several human rights groups have denounced the law as a vehicle for state-imposed censorship of the internet and an undue infringement on people’s freedom of speech. EFE-EPA

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Singapore scientists to start human trials of COVID-19 vaccine in August

UNTV News   •   June 16, 2020

Singapore scientists testing a COVID-19 vaccine from U.S. firm Arcturus Therapeutics plan to start human trials in August after promising initial responses in mice.

The vaccine being evaluated by Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School works on the relatively-untested Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which instructs human cells to make specific coronavirus proteins that produce an immune response.

“The most optimistic case is that it’s about this time next year, that we will have a vaccine,” Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the school’s emerging infectious diseases programme, told Reuters on Tuesday (June 16).

The mRNA approach has not yet been approved for any medicine so its backers, which also include U.S. biotech firm Moderna, are treading uncharted territory.

More than 100 vaccines are being developed globally, including several already in human trials, to try and control a disease that has infected more than 8 million people and killed over 430,000 worldwide.

Ooi is also working on a monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 with Singapore-based biotechnology firm Tychan, and will begin safety trials on healthy people this week, before testing on COVID-19 patients in the coming months. Ooi said potential deployment of the treatment could be faster than the vaccine, without giving an exact timeline.

Antibodies are generated in the body to fight off infection. Monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies and can be isolated and manufactured in large quantities to treat diseases.

Tiny city-state Singapore has one of the highest infection tallies in Asia, with more than 40,000 cases, largely due to mass outbreaks in dormitories for its migrant workers. (Reuters)

(Production: Joseph Campbell)

Singapore’s migrant workers fear financial ruin after virus ordeal

UNTV News   •   June 9, 2020

As Sharif Uddin begins to dream about leaving the cramped Singapore dormitory where he has spent weeks under coronavirus quarantine, fears about his future are creeping in.

The 42-year-old Bangladeshi construction site supervisor is one of the thousands of low-income migrant workers trapped in packed bunk rooms that have been ravaged by the coronavirus, accounting for more than 90% of Singapore’s 38,000 infections.

As Singapore began easing its lockdown measures this month, migrants like Uddin started to think about returning to the outside world, bringing to the surface worries about jobs and debts as Singapore braces for its deepest-ever recession.

“The fear of losing jobs is worrying everyone at the moment,” said Uddin, who sends the bulk of his wages to his family in Bangladesh, like many of the South Asians working in manual jobs in Singapore.

For most migrant workers, at least part of their salaries is used to pay off the steep fees of the agent who helped procure the job.

Reuters has interviewed over a dozen migrant workers in Singapore in recent weeks. While many said they were still being paid, they were unsure if they will retain their jobs when the quarantine is lifted.

The Singapore government has given companies tax breaks to try and ensure migrants get paid while under quarantine and introduced measures to help laid off workers find new positions without having to first travel back to their home country, a core complaint of many labourers.

Lawrence Wong, the co-head of Singapore’s virus task force, told Reuters that the government had taken steps to help alleviate the concerns of workers around job security, but added that layoffs were possible given the grim economic outlook.

“There may be some contractors who might decide – well despite all the government measures, with the new arrangements, the new additional requirements in construction, it is very difficult and I might not want to continue in this industry – and then indeed they might release some of their workers,” said Wong, who is also the minister for national development.

He added that some workers may remain quarantined in their dormitories until August, or possibly beyond, as the government completes mass testing.

The pandemic has drawn attention to the stark inequalities in the modern city-state where more than 300,000 labourers from Bangladesh, India and China often live in rooms for 12 to 20 men, working jobs that pay as little as S$20 ($14.30) a day.

That is higher than they would make at home. But the median salary for Singaporeans in 2019 was S$4,563 per month, according to the manpower ministry.

The bigger worry for many migrants like Uddin is the debts they have racked up securing jobs in Singapore.

Migrants will usually be charged S$7,000-10,000 in fees by a recruitment agent in their home country, equivalent to more than a year of their basic salary, according to rights groups. If they lose their job, this debt could haunt their families for years.

“An indebted worker is a more compliant worker and that is what the employers like. That is one reason too that employers prefer to have new workers, than to retain old workers,” said Deborah Fordyce, president of Singapore NGO Transient Workers Count Too.

Wong, the minister, said the government will continue to work to improve migrants’ lives in Singapore, but tackling issues like fees is difficult because many agents operate in the workers’ home countries outside the city-state’s jurisdiction.

Singapore’s government has pledged to improve living conditions for migrant workers in the short-term and build new, higher-spec dormitories over the coming years. (Reuters)

(Production: Pedja Stanisic, Joseph Campbell, Edgar Su, Travis Teo)

Schools reopen as Singapore eases lockdown restrictions

UNTV News   •   June 2, 2020

With temperatures checked, masks fitted, and hand sanitizer at the ready, many Singapore children returned to school on Tuesday (June 2) after a novel coronavirus lockdown of nearly two months.

Mask-wearing students at Yio Chu Kang Secondary School had their body temperatures taken before entering the school and during class.

According to school staff, recess will be staggered and children will have to sit apart at the canteen to maintain social distancing.

While kindergarten, primary school, and high school students are returning to the classroom, most university students will continue with online courses, local media reported.

With one of the highest coronavirus tallies in Asia, Singapore has said it will ease restrictions gradually, with the registry of marriages and some businesses, including pet salons, also reopening on Tuesday.

Singapore has recorded more than 35,000 coronavirus cases and 24 deaths. Most cases have been among migrant workers living in dormitories. (Reuters)

(Production: Edgar Su, Joseph Campbell)

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