US-Facebook has expressed concern after it was ordered by Singapore to block access to a news site’s page.

Singapore said the fringe site States Times Review had broken a newly introduced “fake news” law and repeatedly conveyed “falsehoods”. Facebook said it was “legally compelled” to comply with the order to block access from Singapore, but said the order was “deeply concern[ing]”.

It added that the directive could “stifle freedom of expression”. The law - known as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill (POFMA) - came into effect in October. The Singapore government has said it needs strict laws given the potential for fake news to incite racial and religious disharmony, and that it needs the power to act swiftly to halt the viral spread of falsehoods.

A Facebook company spokesman said in a statement to the BBC: “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.”

Authorities said the States Times Review (STR) had in January put up a Facebook post which “falsely claimed that Singapore had run out of face masks”. The article was written in relation to the current coronavirus situation, which has seen many in Singapore scrambling to buy face masks.

Singapore, which has reported dozens of virus cases, has always said it has enough supplies and has made sufficient preparations to handle the outbreak. It ordered STR to issue a correction direction - a notice stating that the information put up was false. However, these correction directions were ignored.

The Ministry of Communications and Information on 15 February ordered STR to carry a notice saying that it was a Declared Online Location. This meant anyone who visited the page would be “warned that [it] has a history communicating falsehoods”.

STR did not carry out the notice. Authorities said that it instead “changed the vanity URL of the page”, leading the ministry to instead issue a further directive to Facebook to block access to site for Singapore-based users.

Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran said there was a particular need to “act swiftly” against falsehoods in light of the virus outbreak. “If we don’t, these falsehoods can cause anxiety, fear and even panic,” he had said. The States Times Review page has received at least three correction directions since November last year.