Pofma will deal swiftly with fake news on Wuhan virus: Iswaran
Minister Iswaran says move is to avoid misinformation and spreading panic
Falsehoods about the Wuhan virus pose a grave risk ofspreading and causing panic among Singaporeans and swift action will be taken against them, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said yesterday.
That is why there is Pofma, or the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, he added.
At a press conference chaired by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Mr Iswaran noted that on Sunday night, the Pofma office issued a correction direction to online forum HardwareZone to correct a fake post that someone had died in Singapore from the virus.
Even though the post was taken down, more than 4,600 unique visitors viewed it in the 21/2 hours it was up, he said.
"Some who viewed the post would have shared it with others and been misled by it," Mr Iswaran said.
SPH Magazines, which operates the HardwareZone forum, complied with the correction notice, which included a link to a government website which corrected the falsehoods in the original post.
"HardwareZone.com had, in fact, taken down the thread earlier, in line with its community guidelines. It has also promptly complied with the direction and published the correction notice," said an SPH Magazines spokesman.
"Forum users have also been reminded to post responsibly."
The forum post was made on Sunday at 5.50pm and it was removed before the Pofma order was received.
Several other posts alleging unverified information in recent days have prompted the authorities to issue clarifications.
Last Saturday, a thread of messages on HardwareZone said Singapore repatriated more than 100 Wuhan tourists to China, leading to Facebook clarifications by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority that roundly refuted this as untrue.
Last Friday, a message circulating on WhatsApp also told recipients to avoid going to Tan Tock Seng Hospital and KK Women's and Children's Hospital as patients from China were being sent there.
MOH clarified on Facebook on the same day that people need not do this because all public hospitals "have strict protocols to handle and manage suspect cases", including their immediate isolation and further assessment.
Mr Iswaran said the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and MOH are working together to keep Singaporeans informed on multiple platforms, including the MOH website, the Gov.sg website, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and government fact-checking website Factually.
Television, radio, newspapers, as well as digital display panels in Housing Board blocks are also being used so that all segments of society can be reached, he said.
The Gov.sg WhatsApp broadcast list has seen more than 56,000 new subscribers since Sunday, a surge which saw it experiencing some delays.
Mr Iswaran said the Government is working with Facebook and WhatsApp on possible solutions to such lags, and said information continues to be available on the other listed platforms.
"Please rely on information only from trusted sources," he said.