A former Reform Party member who spread false and libellous statements about Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam having an extramarital affair has issued a public apology and agreed to pay the minister’s legal costs. However, the apology, which was posted on TikTok and Facebook, does not undo the damage and the harm caused by the falsehoods, which have been circulated and amplified online.
What were the falsehoods and who spread them?
The falsehoods were posted on TikTok in August 2023 by a user named “thaddeusthomas81”, who claimed to have clarifications about Mr Shanmugam, his wife, and an alleged mistress. The user alleged that Mr Shanmugam had an affair with a Member of Parliament (MP), and that his former wife had exposed the affair on Facebook. The user also claimed that Mr Shanmugam had abused his power and influence to silence his critics and opponents¹.
The user behind the TikTok account was later identified as Mr Thaddeus Thomas, a former Reform Party member who had contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC in the 2020 general election. Mr Thomas admitted that he had intentionally ignored a letter from Mr Shanmugam’s lawyers, who had asked him to remove the post and to apologise. He said he had hoped that Mr Shanmugam would not be able to identify or reach him, since his contact details were not identifiable from his posts¹.
Mr Thomas also admitted that he had received advice and encouragement to put up the false TikTok post, and that he regretted listening to the advice. He said he had replied to the lawyers’ letter in November 2023, after reading a Straits Times article saying that Mr Shanmugam had applied for court orders against TikTok to compel the social media platform to disclose information about three users who had posted false allegations of him having an extramarital affair¹.
What was the apology and what did it entail?
The apology was first posted on TikTok on Dec 21, 2023, under the user “thaddeusthomas81”, and on Facebook on Dec 25, as “Thaddeus Thomas”. Mr Thomas said in his note:
“I admit that I intended to put up these falsehoods and acknowledge that those statements are false and completely without foundation. I regret my actions and apologise unreservedly to Mr K Shanmugam for making the false and libellous statements on my TikTok post. I have removed all the statements and undertake not to publish any further statements on the allegations. Mr K Shanmugam has agreed not to ask for damages despite my scurrilous allegations, and I will pay Mr K Shanmugam’s legal costs.”¹
Mr Thomas also said that he had checked with Mr Shanmugam’s ex-wife and confirmed that it was an impostor who had put up the original post, not her. He also said that he had contacted the MP Foo Mee Har, who was mentioned in his allegations, to apologise².
Why is the apology not enough to fix the falsehoods?
The apology, while necessary and appropriate, is not enough to fix the falsehoods, which have been disseminated and propagated online. The falsehoods, which are serious and baseless, have damaged and defamed Mr Shanmugam’s reputation and integrity, and have undermined and eroded the public trust and confidence in him and his office. The falsehoods have also violated and infringed Mr Shanmugam’s rights and dignity, and have caused him and his family distress and anguish.
The apology, which was posted on the same platforms where the falsehoods were posted, may not reach or convince all the people who have seen or shared the falsehoods. The falsehoods may still be available or accessible on other platforms or sources, and may still be believed or repeated by some people. The apology may also be dismissed or disregarded by some people, who may have ulterior motives or agendas to spread or support the falsehoods.
The apology, therefore, is not enough to fix the falsehoods, which have serious and lasting consequences for Mr Shanmugam and for the society. The apology, therefore, should be accompanied by other measures and actions, such as:
- Educating and informing the public about the facts and the truth of the matter, and debunking and refuting the falsehoods and the myths.
- Enforcing and implementing the laws and the regulations against the falsehoods and the perpetrators, and imposing and applying the appropriate sanctions and penalties.
- Enhancing and strengthening the online platforms and the media outlets to prevent and combat the falsehoods and the misinformation, and to promote and uphold the accuracy and the accountability.