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First target of Singapore’s ‘fake news’ law is Facebook post that alleged a failed state investment in Salt Bae

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By Adam Taylor November 25, 2019 at 10:28 a.m. EST

Singapore invoked its “fake news” law for the first time Monday, making a citizen amend a Nov. 13 post that the government said used “false and misleading statements” to smear reputations.

But the first use of the law did not focus on misinformation sown by a foreign state or that aimed to provoke sectarianism in Singapore’s multiethnic state, two stated aims of the “fake news” law.

Instead, the legislation was used in response to a Facebook post from an opposition politician that accused the government of responsibility for a failing investment in Turkish restaurant chain Salt Bae.

The move is likely to cause consternation among rights groups, which have already argued that anti-misinformation laws run the risk of hindering freedom of speech.

Singapore’s “fake news” law, officially the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), is one of the world’s most far-reaching of anti-misinformation laws over the past few years, and it has sparked imitators.AD

On Monday, British-born Brad Bowyer, a member of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), was asked to retract statements he had made that implied the Singaporean government influenced investments made by GIC and Temasek, two state investors that he said had made poor financial moves.

The request was made by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat under POFMA, which was passed in May and went into force Oct. 2.

Bowyer had made the comments in a Nov. 13 Facebook post that shared an article about the business problems of Salt Bae, a company named after the social-media famous Turkish restaurateur Nusret Gökçe, which he said had large amounts of debt despite the investment of Temasek.

“It is time for change,” Bowyers wrote in the post, implying the People’s Action Party (PAP) needed to be voted out of government. PAP has dominated Singaporean politics since 1959.AD

Bowyers, a naturalized Singaporean citizen, was a member of the party but had recently joined PSP, a party founded by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s brother.

On Monday, Bowyer amended his Facebook post, writing at the top that “this post contains false statements of fact” and adding readers should click on a government link for “the correct facts.” The government correction notice appears on the official website “Factually” — at more than 900 words, it is almost twice as long as Bowyer’s original post.

The notice said the government did not control investment decisions by Temasek and GIC and Temasek had invested in Salt Bae’s parent company, not the company claiming financial problems.

Bowyer has said he did not oppose the correction notice. “I have no problem in following that request as I feel it is fair to have both points of view and clarifications and corrections of fact when necessary,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.AD

In a follow-up post, Bowyer shared the text of the government correction notice and added: “I do encourage you to read both to draw your own views.”

In April, Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam made the case for POFMA in parliament by highlighting deliberate acts designed to trick readers ahead of the 2016 U.S. election and the Brexit referendum.

“It must be clear enough so that when people read it, they will say this is obviously true,” Shanmugam told the Strait Times. “If you don’t set out enough, then you probably revalidate the original falsehood.”

Under the law, companies could face fines of up to Singaporean $1 million (U.S. $720,000) if they knowingly spread misinformation that damages Singapore’s interests, while individuals run the risk of up to 10 years in prison.AD