Social media sites block satirical rap video in Singapore after government complaint

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Facebook and other social media sites have restricted access to a satirical rap video in Singapore after the government of the wealthy Asian city-state requested the removal of content it said could fan racial tension.

YouTube website in Singapore shows a satirical rap video that was removed due to a government request to remove the content, in Singapore August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The expletive-laced video by an ethnic Indian comedy duo was made in response to an advertisement featuring a Chinese actor portraying different races by darkening his skin and wearing a hijab, the headdress worn by devout Muslim women.

The saga has reignited debate about racial attitudes in the Chinese-majority country, and about its government’s ability to restrict content, with a controversial new fake news law set to take effect.

"We may have to restrict access to content because it violates a law in a particular country, even though it doesn't violate our community standards," a Facebook FB.O spokesman said in response to a question from Reuters.

Reuters could not access copies of the video on Facebook that had previously been available.

An upload of the video on website YouTube, which had attracted more than 40,000 views, carried an advisory reading, “This content is not available on this country domain due to a legal complaint from the government”.

A separate notice on Twitter said content had been withheld in Singapore in response to a legal demand. Alphabet Inc's Google GOOGL.O, the owner of YouTube, and Twitter TWTR.N declined comment.

The video was designed to make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans, law and home minister K Shanmugam said this week, adding that the government had asked Facebook to remove it.

Singapore police said they were investigating the video and would not tolerate offensive content that caused ill-will between races.

Ethnic Chinese make up 76% of Singapore’s domestic population, while Malays and Indians make up 15% and 8% respectively.

Media regulator IMDA said the publishers of the video had agreed to take down the original, and it had asked individuals and internet platforms to cooperate in removing copies being shared online.

The government response has sparked accusations of double standards by some online users who said similar action was not taken against those behind the ad, who have apologized for any offense and removed it.

Social media firms joined rights groups in airing concern about freedom of speech in Singapore after a measure passed this year requiring media platforms to carry corrections or remove content the government deems false.

The law has yet to take effect.

“Just blocking a video is a crude way to deal with a complex problem and it won’t lead to any constructive solutions,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The pending fake news law “changes the rules of the road for freedom of expression on the internet for anything to do with Singapore,” he added.

Reporting by Fathin Ungku and John Geddie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez