Thursday, 15 November 2018

Facebook: No policy against fake news; Facebook allows itself to spread lies by not removing States Times Review post

Facebook refuses to remove a post making allegations against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Government in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2018

Facebook has said it does not have a policy that prohibits alleged fake news, after calls to remove a post making allegations against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Government in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Despite a request to do so by the Infocomm Development Media Authority (IMDA), the social media giant refused to take down a post by sociopolitical site States Times Review, which linked to an article on its site.

The Nov 5 article - titled "Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB's key investigation target" - suggested Malaysia had signed several unfair agreements with Singapore in exchange for Singapore banks' assistance in laundering 1MDB funds.



The IMDA also issued a notice to States Times Review to take down the article by 5pm last Friday, which the website failed to do. The authority said the article is considered prohibited content under the Internet Code of Practice, as it had undermined public confidence in the Government's integrity.

In response to queries from The Straits Times on why it had not acceded to IMDA's request, a Facebook spokesman said it had a responsibility to handle any government request to restrict alleged misinformation "carefully and thoughtfully", and that this is consistent with its approach to government requests elsewhere.

However, she added that Facebook does not have a policy that prohibits alleged falsehoods, "apart from in situations where this content has the potential to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm". Facebook did not explain how it determines whether or not a post spreads falsehoods or misinformation.



The Law Ministry, which had described the States Times Review post as false and defamatory, had previously said Facebook's refusal to take down the post was proof of the need for legislation against deliberate online falsehoods.

It added last night that given previous "public assurances that Facebook is committed to combating online falsehoods, we are disappointed that Facebook has not backed up its promises to combat online falsehoods with action".

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has also filed a police report against the author of the States Times Review article, which it described as "baseless and defamatory".




















 




* Parliament: Facebook allows itself to spread lies by not removing States Times Review post, says Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong
Senior Minister of State blasts social media giant's refusal to remove post accusing Singapore of corrupt dealings
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2018

Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong has denounced Facebook's refusal to remove a post by sociopolitical site States Times Review, which alleges Singapore is involved in corrupt dealings in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

The decision, he said, shows it allows itself to be the platform for spreading lies and falsity that "poison and divide societies" as well as encouraging xenophobia and to profit from that, he said yesterday.



In a tersely worded statement in Parliament, Mr Tong also said that Facebook's refusal is "surprising" as it had given assurances previously that it will work with the Singapore authorities to address online falsehoods.

The incident shows why the goodwill of service provider platforms cannot be relied on to protect Singapore from disinformation campaigns, he said.

It also reinforces a recommendation by a parliamentary Select Committee - which published a report in September on ways to fight fake news - that legislative powers are needed to protect Singapore from deliberate online falsehoods.

Mr Tong was replying to Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), who asked about the Law Ministry's views on the recent online falsehoods that said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Government allowed money laundering of 1MDB funds in exchange for terms favouring Singapore in bilateral agreements.



Regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) had on Nov 9 requested that Facebook remove the post by States Times Review on its website, but it declined to do so. The post was linked to a Nov 5 article "Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB's key investigation target".

Facebook said last week, following media queries, that it does not have a policy that prohibits alleged falsehoods, "apart from in situations where this content has the potential to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm".

Mr Tong told the House that there are many situations where serious harm is caused, even though there is no potential for imminent violence or physical harm.

"As Members will appreciate, the slow drip of poison, over a period of time, can one day burst into violence," he added.

Mr Tong also sought to show how rapidly the recent online falsehoods had spread.



As of Nov 8, three days after the States Times Review article was put up, it had been shared around 1,600 times on Facebook.

Some of the shares were a "concerted effort" by a small group of seven users, who spread it across multiple Facebook groups, and accounted for the fake news being potentially seen by more than 800,000 users who were members of these groups.

On Nov 7, the States Times Review article was reproduced on Malaysian website The Coverage, and it was picked up by Malaysian Chinese newspaper China Press. By Nov 8, the China Press report had been viewed 45,000 times.


Mr Tong said the spread of disinformation follows a pattern witnessed in other countries: "A falsehood first appears in an obscure site and then gets picked up by mainstream media, which lends credence to the claims."

He cited two examples: A false claim about the vulnerability of the United States Navy, and a disinformation campaign against actor Morgan Freeman.

In recapping the Singapore Government's response to the fake news, he said the Monetary Authority of Singapore made a police report on the evening of Nov 8.

The Singapore High Commission in Malaysia also issued a statement saying the article was "clearly libellous", and this was reported in several mainstream media outlets in Malaysia.

Subsequently, many Malaysian publications, including China Press, removed the articles from their websites.

After States Times Review declined to remove the article, IMDA directed the Internet service providers to block its website.

Mr Murali asked if social media giants like Facebook would have a different attitude if it were being directed by an independent body, like the judiciary, instead of a government agency.



Mr Tong reiterated that the Government was "disappointed" with Facebook's failure to remove the post, and noted that the States Times Review article quoted an interview given by the editor of The Sarawak Report website.

But The Sarawak Report itself has said the article is misleading and erroneous.

"Despite that, Facebook has not seen fit to remove its content or block the States Times Review Facebook page," he added.

Mr Tong said that at this point, there are limited options to stem the spread and influence of such online falsehoods.

He added that there is probably a need for levers to arrest the spread of such fake news, a recommendation that was made by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.

Asked by Mr Murali if Facebook had demoted or de-ranked States Times Review's post, Mr Tong said it does not appear so.

He added: "Our primary assessment is that rather than being demoted or de-ranked, it ought not even to have been put up in the first place."



































Govt agencies initiate action over article linking PM Lee to 1MDB
Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) files police report against author of defamatory article relating to 1MDB; news site rejects order to drop article
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 10 Nov 2018

The allegations made in an online article against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Government in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal are "absurd", Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has said.

And the police will investigate and take action against all involved, he said yesterday.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) filed a police report against the author of a Nov 5 States Times Review (STR) article, which alleged Malaysia had signed several unfair agreements with Singapore in exchange for Singapore banks' assistance in laundering 1MDB funds.

MAS said the article, "Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB's key investigation target", made false and malicious statements and impugned its integrity as a financial regulator.



Separately, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said the article had undermined public confidence in the Government's integrity, and is considered prohibited content under the Internet Code of Practice.

IMDA yesterday issued a notice to STR to take down the article by 5pm, which the website failed to do.

In a Facebook post yesterday, STR said it rejected the order.

It added that PM Lee or IMDA "is welcomed (sic) to file a case with the Australian authorities".

An IMDA spokesman said the authority has directed Internet service providers to restrict access to the site. It has also asked Facebook to deny access to the said post.

In a post last night, STR said its website has been blocked, and will thus "cease and desist". It added that its Facebook page will shut down in two weeks' time, but the website will remain until the next general election is over.

The Law Ministry subsequently noted in a statement that Facebook had declined to take down the STR post that is "clearly false, defamatory and attacks Singapore using falsehoods".

"This shows why we need legislation to protect us from deliberate online falsehoods," it said. "Facebook cannot be relied upon to filter falsehoods or protect Singapore from a false information campaign."



Mr Shanmugam had earlier commented about the article at the Treasury building, saying: "When you make allegations of corruption, money laundering, against the Prime Minister, Government of Singapore, that we are complicit in this and so on, of course we take this very seriously."

The police will take action against all involved based on investigations and advice from the Attorney-General's Chambers, he added.

Mr Shanmugam noted that the STR article was later picked up by Malaysian mainstream media.

Malaysian website The Coverage published a similar article on Nov 7 linking PM Lee to the 1MDB scandal. China Press then picked up the piece.

Asked if a foreign agency could be involved in spreading the fake allegations, Mr Shanmugam said he did not want to speculate.

However, he noted that basic checks would have shown the allegations in the STR article were false. That was obviously not done when the Malaysian mainstream media picked up the article, he said.

"So the natural question is, why did they publish these falsehoods, probably knowing that there is no basis? It is obvious also to anyone who publishes them that the allegations will seek to damage the Prime Minister and seek to damage Singapore. And yet they were published.

"The modus: It appears in obscure sites and then gets picked up by mainstream media to make it look real. That modus has been practised in other places. The Select Committee (on Deliberate Online Falsehoods) has set out instances where this is done elsewhere. So it is very curious," Mr Shanmugam said.

He noted that the issue is not unique to Singapore, as technology has made the spread of falsehoods possible all over the world.

On the claims that the STR article made about the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) and water deal, Mr Shanmugam said Malaysia has previously argued that the HSR agreement favours Singapore, and the price of water sold to Singapore is too low.

"These have been made publicly, and we have answered them. This article repeats those points, and adds a nasty, malicious twist," he said.

"It brings in 1MDB, it brings in (former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak). And says that our Prime Minister and Singapore Government were corrupt, and complicit in money laundering on 1MDB. And that is why Singapore got favourable deals. Absurd allegations."



Mr Shanmugam also debunked the article's allegations that Singapore was reluctant to investigate the 1MDB scandal. He noted that the Republic was the first jurisdiction to do so, against the financial institutions and individuals involved.

The two-year investigation by MAS of both foreign and local banks was the most extensive supervisory review it has ever taken, he said, adding that MAS has shut down two banks and imposed fines of around $29.1 million on eight other banks, among other actions.

Mr Shanmugam also noted that Singapore is the first, and only country to date, of at least 10 jurisdictions involved to secure convictions of individuals who facilitated the money laundering. Investigations are continuing into other suspects in Singapore. The Republic has been providing the Malaysian authorities with information on 1MDB since 2015, which Malaysia has acknowledged, he added.



The Sarawak Report had on Thursday distanced itself from The Coverage article. It wrote: "(The article) claims the editor of SR gave an unspecified 'interview to the Malaysian media' declaring that 'Singapore' is the next target of an unspecified '1MDB investigation'. SR has not given any such interview and has not written on this subject."

Singapore's High Commission in Malaysia had described that same article on the website of The Coverage as fake news and libellous a day earlier.


































Online article on PM Lee libellous and fake: Singapore
The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2018

Singapore's High Commission in Malaysia has described an online news article linking Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal as fake news and libellous.

The Nov 7 article was carried on the website of The Coverage, which describes itself as a "social news network based in Malaysia".

The source for the article was listed as "Straights Review" and was linked to a similar article on the States Times Review website.



In response to queries from the Malaysian media, Singapore's High Commission in Malaysia referred to the article titled "Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB's key investigation target - Najib signed several unfair agreements with Hsien Loong in exchange for money laundering", and said: "The High Commission of the Republic of Singapore in Malaysia would like to categorically state that this article is fake news and clearly libellous."

Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, is facing corruption charges over the misuse of funds from 1MDB, the state investment vehicle founded in 2009.










 






Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appreciates Singapore's role in helping Malaysia reclaim 1MDB-linked funds
By Zakir Hussain, News Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2018

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said he appreciates Singapore's role in helping his country reclaim monies laundered from troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

"Some people brought money belonging to 1MDB to Singapore, and many people were paid out of money that was stolen. Singapore took action to arrest them, to charge them and all that, and also to return to us the money that has been stolen. That is cooperation that we appreciate," he told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore shut down two private banks in 2016, fined eight banks nearly $30 million over 1MDB-related offences, and charged six persons. And in September, the State Courts ordered the return of $15 million in 1MDB-linked funds to Malaysia.



Tun Dr Mahathir alluded to this help after meeting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, and said bilateral talks were largely about cooperation.

They also discussed water pricing. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said both sides expressed their differing views on the right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement and their willingness for officials to have further discussions to better understand each other's positions.

Dr Mahathir echoed this yesterday, saying: "There is still a need for us to discuss the matter. We have differences about interpretations and I think we will continue to have discussions at official levels and at the political level, and we hope that we can reach some agreement."

He also said there was a need for an additional bridge between the two countries, noting that traffic between Johor and Singapore was far heavier than between Penang and the mainland. "Yet Penang has got two bridges, and they are constructing a tunnel."

"We need more bridges between the two countries. We hope we can have a direct bridge - one half being Singapore, one half being Malaysia. But if that is not possible, of course Malaysia will go ahead with its own plans," he said, revisiting a position he held during his first stint as PM from 1981 to 2003.

Asked about these plans, he said Malaysia "had this so-called crooked bridge which does not encroach on Singapore land or Singapore territory at all".

In 2003, he announced that Malaysia would go ahead and build a six-lane S-shaped highway that would curve to allow vessels to pass under it.

Told by ST that such a bridge would merely replace the Causeway and not be an extra link, he said: "More bridges would be better. And it won't hurt anybody."

He also said: "There are instances where we need to partner. There are occasions when we need to compete... Sometimes we succeed, sometimes Singapore succeeds. Competition means somebody loses, so the other party can gain."















































Hearing of the International Grand Committee on Fake News and Disinformation

3 Singapore MPs grill Facebook senior exec on fake news at international hearing in the British Parliament
Republic is among nine countries represented in hearing in London
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2018

Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong, taking part in a first-of-its-kind international hearing on fake news and disinformation in London, questioned a senior Facebook executive as to why his company initially refused to take down a hate post in Sri Lanka during a period of religious violence and anti-Muslim riots in March.


While Mr Richard Allan, Facebook's vice-president of policy solutions, agreed it was a "serious and egregious" mistake, he maintained Facebook is still "best placed" to remove content which causes harm.


The exchange took place in the British Parliament yesterday, in a hearing that involved 24 parliamentarians from nine countries, including Singapore.


The others were from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Latvia and Britain, representing about 447 million people.


Besides Mr Tong, Singapore MPs Sun Xueling and Pritam Singh also attended the hearing. The trio are members of Singapore's Parliamentary Select Committee tasked to find ways to combat online falsehoods.




In his question, Mr Tong referenced a Facebook post in the Sinhala language which read, "Kill all Muslims, don't even let an infant of the dogs escape". A report said a user had pointed out to Facebook it violated its hate speech policy.


But Facebook replied then that it did not go against its "community standards" and told the user to directly block the person posting it, among other options.


Mr Tong asked if Facebook's initial refusal to take down the inflammatory posts - which led to the Sri Lankan government banning access to the platform - showed that the social media site "cannot be trusted to make the right assessment" on what can appear on its platform.


Mr Allan admitted it was a "simple error" on the part of a Facebook staff member, saying: "We make mistakes. Our responsibility is to reduce the number of mistakes."


He added: "We are investing very heavily now in artificial intelligence, where we would precisely create a dictionary of hate-speech terms in every language."


Ms Sun asked if Facebook would work with the authorities to take down false information and close accounts that put out fake news.




Mr Allan said that while it would work with the authorities, "the best person to make a decision about whether that claim is true or false is not Facebook... it's the relevant judicial authority in any country".


Mr Singh asked how Facebook was dealing with the tampering of elections. In the 2016 US presidential election, Russians allegedly meddled in it by buying and posting advertisements to breed discord.


Mr Allan said Facebook will set up a task force of security and legal specialists for every significant election to tackle such interference.


When Mr Singh asked what he meant by "significant election", Mr Allan replied: "Our current resourcing allows us to look at all national elections. So, if there's a national election in Singapore, for example, that would be covered."

After Mr Allan's almost three-hour testimony, the parliamentarians inked a declaration, "International Principles for the Law Governing the Internet", which called, among various things, for tech companies to be accountable to users.















 











































Related
Ministry of Law: Facebook’s response to false article -9 Nov 2018

MAS Statement on Defamatory Statements Relating to 1MDB Investigations -9 Nov 2018

Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods - Causes, Consequences and Countermeasures

Select Committee to look into fake news threat; public hearings in March 2018

Public Hearings on Fake News:
- 14 - 16 March 2018

22 - 23 March 2018

- 27 - 29 March 2018

Tackling the real issue of fake news

Select Committee on fake news: 22 recommendations unveiled to combat online falsehoods in Singapore -20 Sep 2018

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