Online communication services spreading harmful content may be blocked in S'pore under new laws

Code(s) of practice for online communication services providers.

Tan Min-Wei | October 03, 2022, 04:19 PM

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The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) introduced the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill for its first reading in Parliament on Oct. 3.

The bill proposes to tackle harmful content on "Online Communications Services" (OCS), in order to protect Singaporeans, particularly children and youths from harmful online content.

This includes sexual or violent content, suicide or self harm, cyberbullying, content that endangers public health, or facilitates vice and organised crime.

Regulatory powers for IMDA

The bill has two parts. Firstly, it gives the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) the ability to designate Regulated Online Communication Services (ROCS).

This will require OCS to comply with a Code(s) of Practice. It will also require them to enact measures that will mitigate the risk to Singaporeans from exposure to harmful content.

Secondly, it will give IMDA the ability to issue directions for OCS to deal with egregious content, although such directions will not apply to private communications.

These directions include telling the OCS provider to disable access to the harmful content by Singaporean users; and preventing specified accounts, groups or channels from communicating with Singaporean users.

It also allows the authorities to instruct internet access service providers to block access to a non-compliant online content service. Non-compliant online content services may also be fined.

The Broadcasting Act will be amended to regulate OCS that may be available to Singaporeans from services provided in, from or outside Singapore.

The bill will also specify Social Media Services (SMS) under a new schedule under the Broadcasting Act.

Code(s) of practice

The code or codes of practice are meant to provide Singaporeans with a safer online experience when using social media.

It will put in place systematic measures to minimise exposure to harmful content, and require social media services to ensure that children, in particular, are not exposed to inappropriate content.

This will also include practical guidance on what content constitutes a risk of significant harm to Singaporean users.

In order to carry this out, SMS are expected to provide an "easy to use mechanism" for Singaporean users to report harmful content and unwanted interactions.

They will also be expected to provide tools for children or their parents to manage their safety on these services; and should take action on these user reports in a "timely manner".

They will also be expected to provide information on Singaporean user's experiences, providing transparency and allowing users to make informed decisions about using their services.

This will be in the form of an annual report to IMDA, which will be published on IMDA's website.

Fighting harmful content online

The bill drew comparisons with similar laws that had been either instituted, such as in Germany and Australia, or were in the process of being written, such as the United Kingdom and European union.

It drew on research done by the Sunlight Alliance for Action group, a public-private-people partnership that targets tackling harmful online content, as well as surveys conducted by MCI.

The research and surveys  indicated a significant majority of Singaporeans asked were concerned about harmful online content.

Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo shared on Facebook about the public consultation conducted by her ministry, and said that respondents generally supported the proposals.

Teo is expected to make a speech during the Second Reading of the bill, in November 2022.

Top image via govsg/YouTube