The Singapore government said on Friday it had instructed Facebook “to publish a correction notice” on a November 23 post which contained accusations about the arrest of a supposed whistle-blower and election rigging.
Singapore, which is expected to call a general election within months, said the allegations were “false” and “scurrilous” and initially ordered user Alex Tan, who runs the States Times Review blog, to issue the correction notice on the post.
Tan, who does not live in Singapore and says he is an Australian citizen, refused.
Facebook said it complied after authorities ordered it to put a correction next to the post.
The item now appears with a label below it, stating: “Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information.”
It also contains a link to the government’s own fact-checking website.
“As required by Singapore law, Facebook applied a label to these posts, which were determined by the Singapore government to contain false information,” a spokesman for Facebook said in a statement.
“As it is early days of the law coming into effect, we hope the Singapore government’s assurances that it will not impact free expression will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation.”
Facebook often blocks content that governments allege violate local laws, with nearly 18,000 cases globally in the year to June, according to the company’s “transparency report”.
Two years in the making and implemented only last month, Singapore’s law is the first to demand that Facebook publish corrections when directed to do so by the government.
Singapore’s government, which regularly faces criticism for curbing civil liberties, insists the legislation is necessary to stop the spread of damaging falsehoods online.
“Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act defines fake news. It leaves it very vague, it says false statement or fact is a statement that is false and misleading, so the government has a lot of latitude to the decide what is fake news,” Kirsten Han, the editor-in-chief of New Naratif, a Singapore-based member-funded multimedia platform, said.
“I think the concern is that it gives the government so much power to define the narrative and to define what is fake news. If Facebook complies to Singapore, then the question is, will they then comply with other governments as well in the future.”
The Asia Internet Coalition, an association of internet and technology companies, called the law the “most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date”, while rights groups have said it could undermine internet freedoms, not just in Singapore, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Facebook, a major investor in Singapore that last year announced plans to build a $1bn data centre there, has its Asia headquarters in the city-state.