Singapore social media outlets complies with order to issue correction notice on COVID-19 variant
Singapore, May 21: Facebook and Twitter along with Singapore''s largest media house have complied with the government''s directive to issue a correction to the users of social media platforms in the city-state after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted about a new COVID-19 "Singapore variant".
Singapore''s Ministry of Health on Thursday invoked the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) in response to a statement circulating online claiming that there is a new variant of COVID-19 which originated in the city-state that is more harmful to children.
On Tuesday, Kejriwal on Twitter claimed that a new strain of the coronavirus found in Singapore could be very dangerous for children and urged the Indian government to cancel all air links with Singapore.
Singapore''s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday had instructed the Pofma Office to issue a correction direction to Facebook, Twitter and the HardwareZone forum owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Magazines.
There is no Singapore variant of COVID-19 and that there is also no evidence of any COVID-19 variant that is "extremely dangerous for kids", the Singapore Government has said.
The government has also made a diplomatic complaint to the Indian Government, a first of its kind between the two countries which had always maintained "friendly ties" with a large number of bilateral pacts covering trade, economy, defence training and social activities as well as the larger umbrella, the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement signed in 2005.
Kejriwal''s remark about a "new form" of COVID-19 in Singapore prompted the Indian government to assert that the Delhi chief minister does not speak for India after Singapore conveyed its strong objections to the "unfounded assertions".
Following the Singapore foriegn ministry''s reaction, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said Kejriwal''s comments were "irresponsible" and that the Delhi chief minister does not speak for India.
"The Ministry of Health is aware of a false statement circulating online by multiple media outlets and social media platforms, which implies that a new, previously unknown variant of COVID-19 originated in Singapore and/or risks spreading to India from Singapore," the ministry''s statement said.
"The strain that is prevalent in many of the COVID-19 cases detected in Singapore in recent weeks is the B1.617.2 variant, which originated in India," it added.
A Facebook spokesman told The Straits Times, "We've carefully reviewed the direction and are legally compelled to issue a correction notice from the Singapore Government to all people using Facebook in Singapore."
Facebook issued a temporary prompt on its news feed for users in Singapore on Thursday, according to a Channel News Asia report.
Twitter said a specialist global team, which looks into requests from governments and law enforcement agencies, reviewed the "request" from the Singapore Government and found it to be applicable under Singapore law.
"In-line with our values around openness, transparency and trust, this request will be reflected in Singapore's section of the Twitter Transparency Report, which we publish twice-yearly," the Channel quoted a Twitter spokesperson as saying.
The notification includes a tweet from the Singapore Government stating that it is legally required.
The SPH said, "SPH Magazines has complied with the Pofma office recommendations to put up the notice in HardwareZone forum by 1.20am this morning."
Earlier in the week, both MOH and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued statements on claims by a politician in India regarding the supposed new variant. MOH said in a statement on Tuesday that there was no truth to his claims while MFA stated that it "regrets the unfounded assertions" made by Kejriwal on social media.