People spreading falsehoods to create fear and panic: Shanmugam
Perpetrators, believed to be both local and foreign, will face action from authorities: Shanmugam
Some people have been deliberately spreading fake news about the situation in foreign worker dormitories to create fear and panic in the community of about 300,000, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said yesterday.
Such falsehoods could even incite violence, he told reporters in a video conference.
The falsehoods being circulated include videos, photos, and even doctored images of news channels, and the authorities believe the people behind them are both local and foreign, Mr Shanmugam added.
While declining to reveal the number of people being investigated, he said the authorities are watching the situation closely and will take action against those who deliberately spread such falsehoods.
"When it's clearly criminal, we will charge (them)," he added.
Foreign workers living in dormitories have formed the bulk of Covid-19 cases recently, with some dorms converted into isolation centres to control the spread of the coronavirus.
As an example of such falsehoods, Mr Shanmugam cited a 35-second video clip of a man hanging in a stairwell that claimed he was a Bangladeshi worker who had killed himself at a dorm in Tuas because of lack of work and money.
On Tuesday, the police said the video, which was circulating on social media platforms here, was not recorded in Singapore.
They advised the public not to spread untruths and not to circulate the video, as it could cause public alarm.
Mr Shanmugam said: "It's quite dangerous because the intention is to try and create fear and panic among our foreign worker community.
"It's to create panic, unhappiness, anger, and hopefully violence. When people panic in such situations and get angry, they can, of course, riot and also to make our own people believe that these foreign workers are being treated badly. It's a very malicious type of video."
He also cited other videos, such as one that claimed to show a fight between two men of South Asian origin in a dormitory here, but it had actually been taken in a dorm in Dubai.
He said old photos of food served in foreign worker dorms were also being re-circulated to suggest the food being served now is of bad quality.
Food quality had "improved tremendously" after Manpower Minister Josephine Teo dealt with the issue, he added.
He said some people are deliberately re-circulating these old photos or photos of food being thrown away in other countries to encourage foreign workers here to "come out and complain even when there is nothing to complain".
"You use falsehoods to foment trouble and make them angry, you don't know what might happen. There could be a serious law and order situation. This is serious, and we are looking at it seriously."
Mr Shanmugam also mentioned an audio recording circulating on text messaging platforms.
"Somebody supposedly working in Sembawang Shipyard, telling the Malay-Muslim community you better go and buy up (groceries) because the Chinese are going to go into a panic-buying mode, and there's a shortage of everything that you can think of," he said.
Mr Shanmugam was also asked why a Singaporean man was charged in court instead of being served a correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), for allegedly posting false claims that supermarkets would open only two days a week as part of enhanced measures. He was charged with communicating a false message under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, which carries a jail term of up to three years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Mr Shanmugam said the facts of the case fit the charge, which was brought on the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers.
He said: "You look at the previous cases where Pofma was used... in the vast majority, probably, there was no other criminal offence.
"When it's a criminal offence, we will take action along those lines... but if it crosses the threshold for Pofma, we will use Pofma."
Dr Geraldine Tan, director and principal psychologist at The Therapy Room, told The New Paper: "Whenever something is placed online, there is a loudhailer effect, and whatever they share may resonate with the fear that others have.
"It is easier to influence with a negative thought than a positive one because it weighs people down."