Who is affected by POFMA? (v2020.06.01)

A note on this dataset’s methodology and sources

The sources used in data collection 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 actor type and accessibility of the communications. A full description of the dataset’s methodology can be found here, and the full dataset can be downloaded here.

Note that this is how the dataset defines reports, uses and communications:

  • 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.

POFMA and Alex Tan

23 out of 52 recorded POFMA uses concern electronic communications on Facebook pages operated by Alex Tan, making him the most frequently involved actor in the legislation’s use. Of these uses, none of those which name Alex Tan or his Facebook pages as recipients have been complied with.

Facebook on the other hand has complied with all targeted correction directions and disabling orders relating to his content. With each disabling order which Facebook has complied with, these Facebook pages are no longer accessible to users in Singapore without using alternative methods.

In reaction, Alex Tan has created a new Facebook page for each Facebook page subject to a disabling order (National Times Singapore was the most recently disabled). Each subsequent page has had a significantly reduced following so far.

What other actors have been affected by POFMA?

In this release of the dataset, I have added a new variable (actor type) to categorise the recipients of each POFMA use. Note that the types are non-exclusive, meaning that each recipient can fall under multiple groups.

An explanation of the actor categories

Each POFMA use recipient is categorised under all of the following groups they fall under:

  • Internet Access Provider. Entities which provide internet access. For example, this includes telecommunications firms such as Starhub or M1.
  • Social Media Platform. Entities which provide social media services. For example, this includes firms such as Facebook or Twitter.
  • Media. Public groups and figures that disseminate news and information to the general public. This includes print, broadcast and digital media outlets; and the journalists or other media workers associated with them.
  • Political Group or Figure. Public groups and figures that are engaged in activities with explicitly political and partisan goals, such as attaining public office or forming part of the government. This includes politicians and political candidates; political parties and their members; and other partisan groups.
  • Civil Society Group or Figure. Public groups and figures which are distinct from business and government, and are engaged in collective activism towards common interests. This includes non-governmental organisations; civil society movements; and civil society activists.
  • Private Individual. Individuals who are not public figures and are not explicitly affiliated with any organisation.

26 out of 52 POFMA uses name media groups or figures as their recipients.

24 out of 52 POFMA uses name political groups or figures as their recipients.

Alex Tan is categorised as both a media figure and a political figure in the dataset, due to his past participation in local elections and his Facebook pages’ self-identification as media sites. He and his Facebook page account for 14 of the uses affecting both actor types.

Other Charts and Figures from the Dataset

POFMA in numbers: One can find 52 distinct uses of POFMA affecting 45 electronic communications, recorded in 28 government reports. The full dataset can be downloaded here.

Below are some charts and figures according to the data gathered:

Facebook is the medium which accounts for the majority of POFMA uses (42/52 uses).

The other mediums are individual Websites (6/52); the HardwareZone Forum (2/52); and Youtube (2/52). Thus far, there are no recorded instances of POFMA being used on other social media platforms.

Most POFMA uses concern content which relate to the COVID-19 outbreak (27/52 uses).

Most POFMA uses are correction directions (36/52 uses).

Lawyers for Liberty is the only target actor whose content has been the subject of an Access Blocking Order.

All Declared Online Locations and their subsequent Disabling Orders affect Facebook pages, all of which are operated by Mr Alex Tan (more details on this can be found above).

SPH (operator of the HardwareZone Forum) is the sole recipient of the General Correction Direction, for content posted by a user on the HardwareZone Forum.

January 2020 and May 2020 are now tied for the most uses of POFMA in a month (12/52 uses each).

Though the law came into effect in October 2019, the first recorded use of the law was in November 2019.

Minister K Shanmugam is the most frequent user of POFMA (11/52 uses).

As both Minister for Law and Minister for Home Affairs, Minister K Shanmugam has invoked the legislation in 11 uses (4 uses as the Minister for Law, 7 uses as the Minister for Home Affairs).


  • Inclusion of 3 new reports, 4 new POFMA uses and 2 new communications.
  • Inclusion of new variable (actor type) in dataset and codebook.

Improving the Dataset

Are you thinking of using this dataset? As a student, I’m keen on improving this dataset’s accuracy and useability to others, and am always eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. If you have thoughts, comments or suggestions, please do direct them towards POFMAed@gmail.com. A big thank you to the academics and journalists who’ve been giving me your feedback and advice; it is greatly appreciated.

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