MOH and MTI issue correction directions under POFMA for fake coronavirus news

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Trade and Industry have both instructed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) office to issue correction directions to separate groups of people who have posted and shared fake news online regarding the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry has instructed POFMA to issue a correction direction to Alex Tan, and a targeted correction direction to Facebook. This comes after a post on the “States Times Review” Facebook page was uploaded on 30 January, making the false claim that Singapore had run out of face masks. The Facebook page is run by Tan who lives in Australia, according to government agency website gov.sg.

According to a press release, The States Times Review said on its Facebook page that the senior minister of state, MOH and Ministry of Transport, Lam Pin Min confirmed that Singapore had run out of face masks, and insinuated that Lam was blaming Singaporeans for “insensible and irresponsible” use of surgical masks. The article added that Tan also posted that Singapore had run out of masks since last Sunday, less than three days after the first confirmed case.

Meanwhile, MOH has instructed POFMA to issue a correction direction to AB-TC City News, who published an article which falsely claimed that five Singaporeans have contracted the Wuhan coronavirus without going to China. A statement released on gov.sg on 30 January said there is no local transmission of the Wuhan virus in Singapore at the time of publishing. All confirmed cases in Singapore are Chinese nationals who travelled from Wuhan. AB-TC City News has since posted the correction direction on its website.

A correction of direction was also issued to Lim Tean and Facebook page "Say No to PAP" who shared the fake news in AB-TC City News' article. A press release from MOH stated that even though both parties have removed the posts, they are "still required to carry a correction notice on their respective Facebook pages" to make sure those who have previously viewed the fake news are informed of the facts. Members of the public are advised not speculate and/or spread unfounded rumours, and to visit MOH's official website for factual updates on the Wuhan coronavirus situation.

MOH has also recently instructed POFMA to issue a general correction direction to Singapore Press Holdings, after finding a post on its online forum HardwareZone, which claimed that a man has died from the Wuhan coronavirus infection in Singapore. HardwareZone.com had since taken down the thread, and reminded its forum users to post responsibly.

Should organisations choose not to comply with the correction directions issued under POFMA, further actions will be taken. Last week, Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information directed the Infocomm Media Development Authority to issue access blocking orders to Malaysia-based non-profit organisation Lawyers for Liberty. This comes after Lawyers for Liberty's failure to comply with the correction direction issued under POFMA. The access blocking order requires internet access service providers to disable access for end-users in Singapore to the online location where the falsehood was communicated.

Read also:
Containing the online spread of fake news on Wuhan coronavirus
Coronavirus outbreak sees rise in ‘Plague Inc’ game download