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Correction Directions Issued to Opposition Politician, Controversial Facebook User, and Facebook

December 16, 2019

Singapore's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) has been invoked for the first, second, and third time, all in the space of one week.

The government issued two Correction Directions - one to Brad Bowyer, an opposition politician, and another to Alex Tan, a former opposition politician and current owner of a controversial Facebook page. It also issued a Targeted Correction Direction to Facebook following Tan's non-compliance. The incidents follow POFMA's entry into force in early October 2019.


On 25 November 2019, Singapore's Minister for Finance, Heng Swee Keat, instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Correction Direction to Bowyer concerning a Facebook post he had made two weeks before about investment and commercial decisions that Temasek, GIC, and other government-linked companies had made.

The Direction, which Bowyer complied with, required him to amend his post to include a correction notice stating: "This post contains false statements of fact. For the correct facts, click here". The notice refers readers to an article on Factually, a government website that addresses issues of public concern. The Factually article states that Bowyer’s post “contains false statements of fact and misleading statements” and provides 15 “clarifications on the points Mr Bowyer has raised” both expressly and impliedly.


Subsequently, on 28 November 2019, Minister for Home Affairs, K Shanmugam, instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Correction Direction to Tan concerning a Facebook post made on his States Times Review Facebook page five days earlier.

The post claims that police had arrested and charged a whistleblower who had made disclosures about the religious affiliations of a member of the ruling People's Action Party. The post also appears to claim that the owner of the now-defunct NUSSU-NUS Students United Facebook page is the whistleblower. Additionally, it makes allegations about the integrity of Singapore's electoral system and Prime Minister.

The Direction requires that Tan include a correction notice at the top of his post. Tan, who says he is an Australian national, has yet to comply. The police have commenced an investigation against him. The government has also put up a Factually article in response to the offending post.


In light of Tan's non-compliance, the government issued a Targeted Correction Direction to Facebook on the same day requiring the platform to publish a correction notice on Tan’s original post.

Facebook complied. Its notice, which is visible to users logged on to the platform in Singapore and appears near the bottom of Tan’s post, states that: “Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information”. 


POFMA provides that the government can issue Correction Directions and Targeted Correction Directions under the following conditions:

  • a false statement of fact, or material that contains or consists of such a statement, has been or is being communicated in Singapore; and
  • the government is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to issue the Direction [sections 10 and 20].

Once issued, these Directions have legal consequences. First, their addressees (e.g., Bowyer, Tan, and Facebook) must comply with their terms. The failure to do so without reasonable excuse is an offence that could lead to a substantial fine and/or imprisonment [sections 15 and 27]. Such failure could also result in the government ordering internet access service providers to block access to the online locations that contain the impugned statements [sections 16 and 28].

Second, Directions require that prescribed digital advertising and internet intermediaries take reasonable steps to ensure that they do not facilitate the communication of any paid content that gives publicity to or otherwise promotes these online locations (e.g., Bowyer and Tan's Facebook pages). The government may also require the intermediaries to inform it of any other online location that features the impugned statements. Non-compliance is an offence punishable with imprisonment and/or a fine [section 47].

Third, a Direction means that the relevant online locations will be one step closer to being eligible for “declared online location” status. The government can impose this status if: (a) at least three statements that are the subject of Directions have been or are being communicated on the locations; and (b) at least three of those statements had first been communicated on the locations within the previous six months. A declaration has several potential consequences of its own, ranging from criminal sanctions for non-compliance, to access restrictions for end-users, to third party liability for those who support the location. Declarations can remain in effect for up to two years [Part 5].

Fourth, the government’s “Prominence Code” requires prescribed internet intermediaries to undertake due diligence measures that give prominence to “credible online sources of information” (such as Factually, presumably) while relegating impugned statements. These measures would affect Google and YouTube search results as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds. Non-compliance without a reasonable excuse is an offence punishable with imprisonment and/or a fine [sections 48 and 50, and the above-mentioned Code].


The incidents are a fascinating first (second and third) look at how the Singaporean government will wield its POFMA powers. They also give us an insight into how others, including intermediaries, might react. Based on what has happened so far, the Act is likely to continue courting controversy for some time - despite the government's repeated assurances, serious concerns persist over the legislation's compatibility with certain civil and political freedoms and values. A challenge has yet to reach the courts.

Topic, claim, or defense
Freedom of Expression
Fake News