The Singapore Police Force (SPF) has requested Telegram to block access to accounts disseminating sexually explicit content on its messaging platform.
However, Telegram has yet to respond to SPF's requests, Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling said in Parliament on Nov. 22, 2023.
More sexually explicit content on Telegram
Sun was responding to Member of Parliament (MP) Nadia Samdin, who asked what are the current measures in place to tackle the rising number of Telegram channels selling non-consensual and illegally obtained sexually explicit content and cited the SG Nasi Lemak chat group as an example.
Nadia, who is an Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP, also wanted to find out what is the government's assessment of Singapore's enforcement system’s current ability to tackle and deter such crimes in a timely way, and what more can be done together with online platforms to prevent such reoccurrences.
Telegram has not responded to SPF's requests
In response, Sun brought up IMDA's Code of Practice (COP) for online safety, which kicked in on Jul. 18, 2023.
Under the COP, six online communication services — Facebook, HardwareZone, Instagram, TikTok, X, formerly Twitter and YouTube — are required to have in place systems and processes minimising Singapore users' exposure to harmful content.
Singapore users can also report harmful content to these services for appropriate actions to be taken.
While Telegram is not on the list of six online communication services, Sun said IMDA will periodically review the need to include other social media services with significant reach and impact, such as Telegram, if necessary.
However, the effectiveness of Singapore's enforcement system depends on the responsiveness of the online service, she added.
Sun said Telegram has not responded to SPF's requests to remove access to accounts disseminating sexually explicit content, but there has recently been some progress in their engagement with the messaging platform.
She added that the government will continue to work with Telegram, as well as other online platforms, to better protect Singapore users from harmful content.
Online Criminal Harms Act
Sun said Singapore has laws against the sale or distribution of non-consensual and illegally obtained sexually explicit content, and that SPF takes a very serious view of such offences and has taken action against perpetrators.
Singapore's laws have been updated to deal with the online dissemination of such harmful content. This includes the introduction of the Online Criminal Harms Act in 2023, which will progressively kick in, starting in the first quarter of 2024.
Under the Act, the police can issue a disabling direction to online platforms such as Telegram to prevent Singapore users from accessing harmful content on their platforms.
Sun said it is an offence for online platforms to not comply with these directions.
In such instances, the Singapore authorities can issue an order to the internet service providers or app stores to block access, remove the app, or restrict its service so that Singapore users cannot access such criminal activity and content.
Besides cooperating with the authorities, online platforms also have a responsibility to proactively curb the spread of harmful online content and to ensure the safety of their services.
Moving upstream to tackle sexually explicit content online
Given that sexually explicit content online is non-consensual and illegally obtained, Nadia asked Sun what more can the government and society do "upstream" to help survivors and create a more respectful culture between men and women.
Sun said the Ministry of Education has in place programmes that teach students to respect all persons regardless of race, language, religion, gender and age.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has campaigns encouraging the public to behave respectfully with their family and partners.
Sun said MSF also offers help to those experiencing physical or sexual violence, and works with social service agencies on how to spot signs of violence and how to counsel those involved.
Sun also shared that SPF set up a sexual crime and family violence command in April 2023, staffed by officers who specialise in managing sexual crime and family violence cases.
During the course of investigations, these officers can also activate victim care volunteers under the Victim Care Cadre Programme (VCCP) to provide emotional support to victims.
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