7-hour debate in parliament: Motion to building 'safe & inclusive' online space for S'pore passes

The motion was titled "Building An Inclusive And Safe Digital Society".

Hannah Martens | Julia Yee | January 11, 2024, 03:55 PM



Parliament held a seven-hour discussion on Jan. 10, 2024, about the importance of a safe digital space.

PAP MPs Tin Pei Ling, Sharael Taha, Hany Soh, Jessica Tan, and Alex Yam filed a motion titled "Building An Inclusive And Safe Digital Society", calling for the House to reaffirm their commitment to adopt a whole-of-nation approach to sustain trust by building an inclusive and safe digital society.

The motion included 13 recommendations to safeguard online transactions better, detect deepfakes and scams, and educate the whole of society to take part in digital activities safely.

MPs spoke about various facets of improving safety and inclusivity in the digital world, such as online harm, cyberbullying, scams, and the alienation of the elderly.

Scam are like "cockroaches"

In her opening remarks, Tin acknowledged an "increasingly perilous" digital landscape, marked by the surge in online harms such as scams, ransomware, deep fakes, misinformation, and other malicious cyber activities.

"Much like cockroaches, scams often operate in the dark corners of the digital realm, exploiting vulnerabilities and thriving in unsuspecting spaces.

They are agile, quick to evolve, and adept at camouflaging themselves, making it challenging to eradicate them entirely."

Like cockroaches, Tin explained, new and more sophisticated threats emerge just as one has figured out the latest scamming trick.

"If we do not make a clear stand and actively manage these issues, we risk losing the public’s trust in the digital world," she said.

Bridging the elderly-tech gap

Yio Chu Kang MP Yip Hon Weng called for accelerating digital literacy programs for seniors and establishing a centralised support network to address their digital anxieties and fears.

"Without proper digital literacy and support, our seniors risk being left behind, isolated, and vulnerable to exploitation," he added.

Yip said sustainable, engaging programs tailored to seniors' needs must be sustainable.

This will empower seniors to build critical thinking skills and encourage source verification to be more discerning online.

Yip also called for law enforcement agencies to crack down on cybercriminals targeting seniors actively.

Well-being of youths

PAP MP Wan Rizal brought up the issue of cyberbullying, citing studies that show four in 10 children aged eight to 12 are at risk of cyberbullying, with it increasing for teens.

Digital literacy programs must continue to creatively integrate into the core curriculum of the education system at all levels, he added.

He said the aim is to foster a collaborative approach between schools and families, ensuring consistency in the messages and practices regarding digital safety and usage.

Wan Rizal further encouraged social media services and app developers to intensify their age assurance measures, stating that the current system can be easily circumvented.

PAP MP Nadia Samdin urged platforms and apps to step up age assurance measures to protect young users from harmful content and have better verification and restriction measures in place.

"We must do better in digital education, such that our people don’t lose basic compassion or tolerance for each other and understand the consequences of their words posted in a rage."

Online harms

While certain legal methods have been implemented to monitor the digital space, PAP MP Darryl David voiced concern over the more complex facets of "online harm".

The term can be broadly described as non-illegal but distressful online behaviour, including cyberstalking, body shaming, unwanted sexual attention, trolling, and cancel campaigns.

This is different from overt online danger such as terrorism propaganda and sexual exploitation and abuse, David stressed.

Bundling them together within the same topology of undesirable online content risks obfuscating the nature and impact of these online harms, potentially reducing the efficacy of remedy actions that can be undertaken.

David thus proposed that the government take measures to adopt victim-centric education and remediation, coupled with a more strident position on perpetrators.

He also suggested that the government work with other civil societies, especially community-based ones, to provide additional avenues for victims.

Calls for better loss-sharing frameworks

PSP NCMP Hazel Poa highlighted issues with the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) Shared Responsibility Framework, which assigns financial institutions and telcos relevant duties to mitigate phishing scams and requires payouts to affected scam victims where these duties are breached.

Poa then urged the government to consider a multiple-tiered system with different levels of security versus convenience so that both banks and customers share the liabilities of any losses due to scams and would both have incentives to be vigilant.

WP MP Jamus Lim pointed out that fraud is "almost always perpetrated" on the vulnerable customer rather than on the "relatively better-equipped and technologically sophisticated" bank, creating a power imbalance between customers and banks.

He stated the government needs to empower depositors with a more robust set of laws that offer financial protection to consumers, like laws that limit liability on fraudulent transactions to a pre-specified amount.

The motion was passed at the end of the debate.

Top image via Unsplash