POFMA in Numbers

Note: a more recent version of the dataset and its analysis is available (please check the Updates section of the website).

POFMA (or the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) came into effect on 2 October 2019. POFMA’ed aims to record every instance of the legislation’s use in a single dataset, for reference by academics, media practitioners and the general public. This first post shares some initial findings.

According to the dataset: since the law came into effect (and as of 5 May 2020 – the date this post was written), one can find 39 distinct uses of POFMA affecting 36 electronic communications, recorded in 21 government reports.

According to the Dataset

This dataset’s methodology and sources

A full description of the dataset’s methodology can be found here.

The full dataset can be downloaded here.

The sources used are government reports (POFMA Office press releases and Gov.sg Factually articles). Media reports and direct sources (the communications themselves) are also used to verify the accessibility of some communications.

How does the dataset define a report, use of POFMA and communication?

A report is a government press release issued to announce a use of the legislation.

Within a single report, one can find multiple distinct directions or orders under POFMA. Each of these are classified as a distinct use of POFMA.

Each direction or order can affect multiple distinct electronic communications, such as a Facebook post or website article.

For example:

  • According to Report 1, a Facebook post is the subject of a correction direction, issued to Individual A.
  • According to Report 2, this same Facebook post is also the subject of a targeted correction direction, issued to Facebook.

The POFMA’ed dataset would thus track that Facebook post as one communication, subject to two distinct POFMA uses, according to two distinct reports.

Frequency of Uses and COVID-19

Though the law came into effect in October 2019, the first use of the legislation took place on 25 November 2019, in the form of a correction direction issued to Brad Bowyer for a Facebook post.

January currently represents the highest spike in uses of the legislation, with 12 Uses of POFMA.

Of the 39 Uses of POFMA, 20 of them concern content relating to the ongoing COVID-19 Outbreak.

Types of Directions Used

Correction directions account for the majority of the directions / orders issued under POFMA (30 out of 39).

Some noteworthy cases:

  • The sole access blocking order concerns Lawyers for Liberty.
  • The sole declared online location direction and disabling order (for declared online locations) concerns the States Times Review Facebook page.

According to the sources used, there are no records of the following directions being used: stop communication directions; disabling directions; and account restriction directions.

What are the implications of each type of POFMA Directive?
Type of DirectionDescription
Part 3 Direction: Correction DirectionAccording to the POFMA Office: A Correction Direction is a Direction issued to a person who has communicated a falsehood (i.e. the recipient) that affects the public interest. It requires the recipient to publish a correction notice, providing access to the correct facts. The Direction does not require the recipient to take down their post or make edits to their content, and does not impose criminal sanctions.
Part 3 Direction: Stop Communication DirectionAccording to the Singapore Statutes: A Stop Communication Direction is one issued to a person who communicated the subject statement in Singapore, requiring the person to stop communicating in Singapore the subject statement by the specified time (…)
Part 4 Direction: Targeted Correction DirectionAccording to the POFMA Office: A Targeted Correction Direction is a Direction issued to an Internet Intermediary (“II”), whose service was used to communicate a falsehood that affects the public interest. The Direction requires the II to communicate a correction notice by means of its service to all users in Singapore who access the falsehood through its service. This is so that users who see the falsehood on a platform also see the correction notice on that platform.
Part 4 Direction: Disabling DirectionAccording to the Singapore Statutes: A Disabling Direction is one issued to the internet intermediary that provided the internet intermediary service by means of which the subject material has been or is being communicated in Singapore, requiring it to disable access by end‑users in Singapore to the subject material provided on or through the service that consists of or contains the subject statement, by the specified time.
Part 4 Direction: General Correction DirectionAccording to the POFMA Office: A General Correction Direction is a Direction issued to prescribed Internet Intermediaries, prescribed telecom and broadcast licensees, and/or prescribed permit holders of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act that would require them to communicate, publish, broadcast or transmit a correction notice to their users in Singapore.
Part 5 Direction: Declared Online LocationAccording to the POFMA Office: These are online locations that have carried three or more different online falsehoods which are the subject of active Directions issued by POFMA Office under Ministerial instruction within a period of 6 months, prior to the Declaration. A Declared Online Location will not be allowed to profit from spreading falsehoods in Singapore.
Part 5 Direction: Disabling Order (for Declared Online Location)According to Section 34 of the Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, this is an order to an internet intermediary to disable access to declared online location.
Part 6 Direction: Account Restriction DirectionAccording to the Singapore Statutes, the Account Restriction Direction is a Direction to counteract inauthentic online accounts and coordinated inauthentic behaviour.
Access Blocking OrderAccording to the Ministry of Communications and Information: The Access Blocking Order requires internet access service providers to disable access for end-users in Singapore to the online location where the falsehood was communicated. Access Blocking Orders apply to situations of non-compliance for other directions.

Medium

The medium of content which has been subject to the most uses of POFMA is Facebook, which accounts for 31 out of 39 uses of POFMA. Websites account for 6 uses of POFMA, while the HardwareZone Forum accounts for 2 uses of POFMA.

Individuals Named

16 of the 39 uses of POFMA name individuals as recipients of the directions or orders issued.

Source of Requests

Each use of POFMA was requested by a Minister. Here’s a breakdown of the requestors:

About POFMA’ed

Follow the blog for more updates and analysis on the use of POFMA legislation in Singapore. If you’re keen to have a look at the data yourself, you can find it under the data section of the website.

This dataset began as part of a discourse analysis research assignment for my university. I have published it online because I believe it might be of interest to others who (like me) were searching for more information on the legislation’s use. As a student, I would greatly appreciate any suggestions for improving the dataset.

If you have any comments, corrections, or suggestions, please direct them to POFMAed@gmail.com

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