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Coronavirus sends Asia's social media censors into overdrive – National Post



BANGKOK/SINGAPORE — Deluged by misinformation about the new coronavirus on social media, some Asian governments are fighting back with arrests, fines and fake news laws – something free speech advocates fear will entrench measures that can also silence dissent.

At least 16 people have been arrested over coronavirus posts in Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong, while Singapore has used its controversial new “fake news” law, POFMA, to force media outlets and social media users to carry government warnings on their posts and articles saying they contain falsehoods.

“Fortunately, we now have POFMA to deal with these fake news,” said Lawrence Wong, one of the ministers heading a Singapore government task force to halt the spread of the virus.

Many details of the new flu-like coronavirus that surfaced just weeks ago in the Chinese city of Wuhan are unknown. As the death toll has passed 420, anxiety has been fueled by social media posts ranging from the bizarre to the malicious.

Posts include speculation about how the virus can be caught – through a video game according to one – or avoided – a government minister in Myanmar was rebuked for sharing a post that recommended eating more onions – to local scares of deaths or anti-Chinese attacks.

“What I call the ‘moron strain’ has created a global, social media-driven panic that is in turn feeding on itself,” wrote Karim Raslan in his regionally syndicated column, noting how much greater the challenge had become for governments to manage.

At least five people were arrested and released on bail in India’s southwestern state of Kerala over WhatsApp messages, said Aadhithya R, District Police Chief of Thrissur. Six people were arrested in Malaysia on suspicion of spreading false news.

In Vietnam, where an army of cyber-censors tracks social media comment for the communist government, at least nine people have been fined and three celebrities asked to explain their actions over posts about coronavirus.

Thailand hailed the success of an “anti-fake news center” it set up last year. Dozens of staff reviewed nearly 7,600 posts in four days from Jan. 25 – leading to 22 posts being highlighted as false on its website and two arrests under computer crimes laws.

“The anti-fake news center is working intensively to verify these rumors and communicating truth to the people,” said Digital Minister Puttipong Punnakanta.

Thailand is among countries where laws on social media posts have been toughened in recent years despite complaints from human rights groups that they could be used to target government opponents.


Free-speech advocates are wary that the campaign against coronavirus could help governments extend their control as well as damaging the health campaign.

“Criminalisation of speech, even if targeted at falsehoods, is highly likely to stifle the real time sharing of information that is essential during epidemics,” said Matthew Bugher, Head of Asia Programme for free expression campaign group Article 19.

China has long censored social media heavily and some critics say that may have delayed information on the emerging virus in Wuhan – and therefore potential countermeasures.

Eight people were arrested after being accused of spreading rumors about illness in early January, but the case was dropped last week amid growing public anger over the handling of the new crisis.

Meanwhile, Tencent Holdings’ ubiquitous messaging app WeChat has added tools to help debunk virus rumors. The official People’s Daily has also introduced a tool to help people verify reports.

Western social media companies are also stepping up action. Facebook Inc has said it would take down misinformation about the coronavirus – a rare departure from the usual approach to health content by the world’s biggest social network.


Taiwan has warned of punishment for spreading disinformation. South Korean police were working with telecoms regulators to block “false information,” Yonhap news agency said.

Indonesian police said two people had been arrested for spreading fake news and face charges that could see them jailed for up to five years. Hong Kong police said a shopping mall security guard was arrested for spreading false news about infections.

In Singapore, some said the government was using its new fake news law responsibly.

“Many examples of misinformation, confusing data and outright fake news present a clear and present danger to public safety, health and security,” said Nicholas Fang, founder of Singapore consultancy Black Dot Research.

But not all were convinced.

Journalist and activist Kirsten Han is among those who have been given a government correction notice – in her case for sharing an article related to state executions last month rather than anything to do with coronavirus.

“Just because there are relatively more justifiable uses of a #fakenews law, it doesn’t mean that the law was well-drafted and can’t be an instrument of abuse and oppression,” she commented on Twitter. (Reporting by Matthew Tostevin in Bangkok and John Geddie in Singapore; Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana, Keira Wright and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta, Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur, Patpicha Tanakasempipat in Bangkok, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Josh Smith in Seoul, Chris Thomas in Bengaluru, James Pearson in Hanoi, Tony Munroe in Beijing, Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Tom Holland Says He's Taking a Break From Social Media Because It's 'Detrimental' – ELLE



Tom Holland announced on Instagram that he is distancing himself from social media for the sake of his mental health and encouraged his followers to share his message. The Spider-Man star has deleted his Instagram in the past, but always returned to having an account. Many celebs don’t run their own social media, but Holland clearly has some hand in his posts.

“I get caught up and I spiral when I read things about me online and ultimately it’s very detrimental to my mental state, so I decided to take a step back and delete the app,” Holland explained in the three-minute clip.

Holland runs a charitable organization called The Brothers Trust, which supports an app called Stem4, designed to help teenagers with their mental health. He advocated for the apps while talking about his own issues.

“There is an awful stigma against mental health and I know that asking for help and seeking help isn’t something that we should be ashamed of, but it is something that is much easier said than done,” Holland said. “So hopefully these apps can be your first step towards being happier and healthier.”

He also wrote in the caption, “Please take the time to watch my video, and should you feel inclined to share it with anyone who it may resonate with — it would be greatly appreciated.”

The actor is dating his co-star, Zendaya, who has also talked about unhealthy relationships with social media, though she mainly focused on her fans encouraging her to step back when necessary.

“Being on [social media] would kind of make me anxious, or I would start to overthink a little too much,” she told People in an interview. “[My fans] want me to … be happy and exist beyond social media.”

Aimée Lutkin is the weekend editor at Her writing has appeared in Jezebel, Glamour, Marie Claire and more. Her first book, The Lonely Hunter, will be released by Dial Press in February 2022.

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Per usual, social media gets it all wrong with Cameron Smith ruling – Golf Channel



MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Not that the wasteland that is social media should be any kind of guide – let’s face it, there’s no room in that hellscape for anything approaching an educated or nuanced conversation – but the vitriol created by Cameron Smith’s internet-bending rules violation at the FedEx St. Jude Championship requires some housekeeping.

The Rules of Golf can be confusing and overly complicated, but the avalanche of incorrect and distorted opinions over Smith’s two-stroke penalty for playing a shot from a hazard requires some addressing:

“The red [hazard] line is pretty stupid to begin with. Guys [already] taking a drop. Garbage like this and DJ’s penalty in 2010 PGA Championship just makes me want to root for LIV to succeed!”

Not exactly sure of the logic in the above tweet text, but Smith’s penalty – like all penalties – are based on the Rules of Golf, which are written and maintained by the USGA and R&A, not the PGA Tour.

After starting the day at 11 under and two shots off the lead, Smith was informed that he was four back after violating Rule 14.7.

In fact, many in this same Twitter thread pointed out that longtime former Tour rules official Slugger White is now LIV Golf’s vice president of rules & competition management, and the Saudi-backed league also plays by the same Rules of Golf.

There are plenty of problems with the Rules of Golf, but they have nothing to do with the PGA Tour.

“I think they need to have unlimited time to address a violation. Even 5-10 years from now they could detect an error and DQ a player for failing to handle it properly and ask that prize money be returned. The round was over, it wasn’t handled.”

Also incorrect. While Tour officials regularly review possible violations and circle back around the next day to clarify things, like they did with Smith, when the final putt drops and a winner is crowned, the competition is closed. There is no going back at that point.

“Would they have done this to Rory or JT if they were in contention? Absolutely no way. PGA is officially a joke.”

We know conspiracy theories range from absurd to just troll jobs, but this is ridiculous to the extreme. In fact, most argue the game’s stars are held to a higher standard because they are more often shown during broadcast and are therefore under more scrutiny than a player who finishes well outside of contention.

There are countless examples of top players being penalized, but Rory McIlroy’s incident with officials at the 2019 Northern Trust, which was that season’s playoff opener, is a solid comp.

The Northern Irishman was penalized two shots during the second round for touching what he thought was a rock in a bunker but turned out to be a clump of sand. He was three shots off the lead at the time. That penalty was later rescinded by the rules committee after a more in-depth review of the new definition of the rule.

“Couch fan called it in and of course the [PGA Tour] accepted that rules officials word and reviewed it. There was a rules official with him at the time that didn’t rule it. [Tour] failing again.”

It’s a common misconception that there’s a rules official with every group. That is not correct. There was an official “in the area” who could have been called in to help Smith better understand the rule, and that’s always an option. It’s also worth noting that Ryan Palmer, who was paired with Smith on Saturday, even suggested he call an official for clarity if he wasn’t sure, but Smith did not.

Full-field scores from FedEx St. Jude Championship

Also, officials stopped taking call-ins for potential violations years ago. It was an on-site rules official who was watching Saturday’s re-air who suggested the committee take another look at the drop, and it was Smith who admitted that his ball was on the line.

“Masters winner Scheffler is a strong opponent of LIV. And in the first round in Memphis, the American blatantly walked across the putting line of his playing partner Smith on the 12th green before a birdie attempt. The Aussie looked at him in disbelief.”

Scottie Scheffler is a supporter of the PGA Tour in the ongoing rift with LIV Golf and he did walk by Smith during Thursday’s opening round, but he did not walk across or through his line. Scheffler told reporters that when he realized what he’d done he tracked Smith down to apologize for any slight, either real or perceived.

The two even jokingly concocted a plan to have a “stare-down” during Friday’s second round, but neither could keep a straight face long enough to pull it off.

There’s enough animosity between those loyal to the Tour and those who have bolted for LIV Golf, but neither the penalty nor Scheffler’s snafu had anything to do with the start-up league.

“Really tough break. It was the right call. He handled it very well, classy guy.”

This one is actually correct. Smith did handle the news well and it was the right call, regardless of what many on social media might think.

“[Smith’s] answer to me is, ‘The rules are the rules,’” said Gary Young, the PGA Tour’s chief referee. “He just accepted the two-stroke penalty … he very calmly left the office and he’s just going about his business for the day.”

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Three Syrian soldiers killed in Israeli missile attacks: Report – Al Jazeera English



At least three Syrian soldiers have been killed and three others wounded in “multiple” Israeli missile attacks on Syria, according to state media.

The SANA news agency said on Sunday that the missile attacks took place at 8:50pm (17:50 GMT) and targeted “some points” in the countryside near the capital, Damascus, and the coastal province of Tartous.

Syrian air defence forces confronted the “aggressions” and downed some of the missiles, SANA said, citing an unnamed military source.

“The aggression led to the death of three soldiers, the wounding of three others,” it reported.

The attacks on Damascus were carried out from a direction southeast of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, while the attacks on Tartous came from the Mediterranean sea.

In addition to the deaths, the attacks caused some “material damage,” the military source told SANA.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air raids inside the country, targeting government positions as well as allied Iran-backed forces and Hezbollah fighters. Israel rarely comments on individual raids in Syria, but the Israeli military has defended them as necessary to prevent Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, also reported on Sunday’s attacks, saying the raids targeted an air defence base in Tartous province, where Iranian-backed groups are active.

The site in Tartous is located 8km (5 miles) from a Russian base, said the monitor, which has a vast network of sources in Syria.

It said ambulances had rushed to the scene of the raids in Tartous.

It added that two missiles also struck a Syrian government military site in the Al-Qutayfah area of the Damascus countryside.

Other recent reported Israeli attacks in Syria include a raid near Damascus that killed three Syrian soldiers last month. The Syrian Observatory said that attack targeted a military facility and an “Iranian weapons depot”.

Civilians have also been wounded in the Israeli raids.

Syria’s defence ministry said in early July that an Israeli raid carried out from the Mediterranean Sea near the town of Al-Hamadiyah, south of Tartous town, had wounded two civilians.

State media also reported that Israeli shelling on Friday had wounded two civilians in southern Syria near the occupied Golan Heights.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said Israel has also recently struck a port in the coastal city of Latakia as well as the airport in Damascus, deeming the runway there unusable for weeks.

“For Israel, the biggest goal is to prevent Iran from creating a base on its border with Syria, the way that Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah has,” she said. “Israel also wants to stop any transfers of sophisticated weapons from Iran to Hezbollah.”

She added, “such attacks are often confined, but the risk of further escalation is there.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was able to turn the tide of his country’s civil war, with crucial help from Iran’s proxy groups and with Russia’s military intervention in 2015.

The conflict started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests for democracy and has killed nearly half a million people since 2011.

Half of the country’s prewar population have also been forced from their homes.

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