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The Online Citizen (TOC) today (May 3) responded to Observer+’s rebuttal piece titled “TOC *tries* to fact-check Observer+ but gets their data wrong“.


April 28 – Channel NewsAsia (CNA) did a feature on Observer+.

April 30 – The Online Citizen then attempted to ‘fact-check’ CNA here.

April 30 – Observer+ responds with a rebuttal piece that revealed TOC’s lackadaisical approach in their research which resulted in misleading claims.

May 3 – TOC rebutts Observer+’s piece, with more claims.

What and whys

Following the inaccuracies pointed out by this site in TOC’s original article on Observer+ which questioned Observer+ pageviews and business links, TOC hit back with a rebuttal piece of their own.

TOC originally said:

“A quick search on Alexa, reveals that Observer+ is ranked 1,317 in Singapore, and based on CNAโ€™s article, the site received page views up to 1.9 million a month. But, upon comparing the figures with TOCโ€™s ranking, something didnโ€™t seem right.”

This is where Observer+ revealed their Google Analytics figures which indeed showed our pageviews are at 1.9 million – although we’ve garnered about 2.8 million pageviews for April 2019.

Pageviews data can be fact-checked via Similarweb which the public can also access.

We went further by estimating TOC’s pageviews at 2.54 million – an estimation because TOC to-date has not verified their numbers.

TOC then edited their first article following our reveal to include the following:

“As a comparison, TOC is placed 556 in Singapore under the same analytics and has only about 2 million views a month.”

They added: “Given that TOC is ranked almost 700 places above Observer+ in Singapore and above 100,000 places in Global rank, itโ€™s hard to believe that the page views can be nearly the same.”

Where TOC failed to understand is that a new website with eg. 500 million pageviews on their first month, will not automatically be ranked No. 1 on Alexa.

The ranking system also takes into consideration the age of the website which is why Observer+ – a relatively new website – is still ranked below TOC (which has been running for close to a decade).

TOC then asserted the following:

“But, the point of our original article was solely on how CNA took Observer+โ€™ words for it and failed to do any sort of fact-checking. It was not so much on which tool we used to find out the pageviews of the site.”

It is strange that The Online Citizen would U-turn on the point about pageviews because it was them who originally based their arguments on the popularity of Observer+ vis-a-vis TOC based on the pageviews mentioned in CNA.

In demonising CNA for the lack of fact-checking, TOC decided to do a bit of fact-check on its own but as Observer+ has pointed out in the rebuttal piece, TOC bungled their research owing to what seems to be a lack of knowledge on the technological analysis front.

It is therefore quite glib and misleading to argue one thing and then say something different after being corrected.

The business status of Blackwilder

In the CNA piece, the report mentioned of a company called Blackwilder – a brand under Rockefeller Pte Ltd, which is set – although not in stone – to take ownership of Observer+ should the need arises – eg. Observer+ registration under the Broadcasting Act.

TOC then in a sleight of hand, decided to link a dormant company “The Black Wilder Group” (TBWG) as the Blackwilder entity mentioned by CNA, and in making that link, questioned how a company that has closed down would be able to fund Observer+ in the future.

As per Observer+ rebuttal piece, while TBWG – which has been dormant since 2011 – and Blackwilder (registered in 2015) are similarly named, they are not the same entity and are of an entirely different business altogether.

TBWG is a white-hat hacking group that Azly was a part of between 2009 and 2011. You can read one of TBWGโ€™s exploits here.

TOC went further with the following:

TOC claims: Rockfeller Pte Ltd, which is owned by Azly J. Nor, the man who co-founded the Facebook page SMRT Feedback in 2015.”

Fact: Azly J. Nor co-founded SMRT Feedback in 2011, but left in 2012, and made his reveal in 2015.

TOC claims: “…based on the information gathered from ACRA, TOC also notes that Rockfeller was registered with a foreign director, although Azly is shown to be the sole shareholder of the company with $45,000 issued shares.”

Fact: Rockefeller Pte Ltd was registered by Azly, a Singaporean, in March 2015, while the ‘foreign director’ TOC referred to, is a Director who joined the board in July 2015. She is not a shareholder, thus do not own the company. This is clearly shown in ACRA records which TOC themselves procured.

Responding to Observer+ queries on the citizenship of the Director, Azly revealed that his director who he counts as his mentor, is a Singapore PR who has been living and working in Singapore since the late 2000s.

Licensing registration under the Broadcasting Act

TOC posits that Observer+ – with its high pageviews – “already qualifies for the (Broadcast) licensing”.

The licence requires any websites visited by at least 50,000 unique IP addresses from Singapore each month over the same period of two months to be registered.

Source: TOC

As per the email by IMDA to TOC on the licensing terms, it states:

“Corporate entities providing, operating or managing websites in or from Singapore that are engaged in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore, are required to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification”.

“If there is information that a corporate entity is engaged in the propagation, promotion, or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore via a website, IMDA will evaluate whether the corporate entity is subject to registration.”

At the moment, The Online Citizen, The Independent Singapore, Yahoo! and Mothership are registered under the Broadcast licensing.

Observer+ does not have in-depth reporting or commentaries on sociopolitical events neither does it have a corporate entity. This can be verified by our article output on Singapore so far and in our rebuttal piece.

Observer+ did, however, reported briefly on the Oxley Road saga as well as AHTC trial but the endeavour was dropped as political articles are not something we would like the brand to be recognised for.

If Observer+ is required to be licensed nonetheless, the entity will obliged.

In the same breath, sites like MustShareNews, Rice Media, and Wake Up SG, just to name a few, should also be registered.

But that’s up to the powers that be.