Social media giant Facebook has imposed a ban on Singapore users from accessing the States Times Review Facebook page, after the Singapore government threatened them with fines up to S$500,000.

A Facebook spokesperson lamented about the freedom of speech in Singapore in its press statement:

“We believe orders like this are disproportionate and contradict the Government’s claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool. We’ve repeatedly highlighted this law’s potential for overreach and we’re deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore. After careful review of the order, Facebook has determined that we are legally compelled to restrict access to this page in Singapore.” 

Facebook is held at ransom by the Singapore government because it has invested US$1 billion building a data center in the island dictatorship.

The States Times Review (STR) Facebook page became the first website to be made a “Declared Online Location” on Saturday (Feb 15) by the propaganda ministry, Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

MCI Minister S. Iswaran ordered the page to be shut down after the owner of STR, Alex Tan, refused to obey three POFMA orders issued to him. The Australian-Singaporean responded saying the Singapore government will have to bring a case to the Australian court to get his compliance, as his activities and website is based in Australia and not Singapore.

The Singapore government has been facing severe public criticisms over the handling of the Wuhan virus outbreak, and government ministers blamed “fake news” on the internet for “creating rumours and fears” in the society:

“It is in circumstances like this that there also is a propensity for perpetuating falsehoods … The reason why we need to act swiftly is because if we don’t, then these falsehoods can cause anxiety, fear, and even panic.”