Singapore joins other places with laws regulating online content

VIDEO "challenges" which ask viewers to film themselves doing dangerous acts can go viral rapidly through social media platform algorithms and user interest, and lead to injuries and deaths.

Terrorist acts captured on videos through live-streaming can have their impact exacerbated when these clips are reshared online.

These were examples given by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) on Monday (Jun 20) of how harmful online content can be amplified on social media services, which are the focus of proposed rules to enhance online safety for users.

The new rules include requiring designated social media platforms to implement community standards and content moderation processes, to minimise users' risk of exposure to damaging online content. Public consultations on these regulations will begin next month.

The ministry said Singapore is not immune to online harms such as religiously or racially offensive content that can incite religious intolerance and prejudice racial harmony here, as well as abusive online behaviour.

It cited an online survey by Sunlight Alliance for Action - a cross-sector alliance that tackles online dangers - which revealed that nearly half of more than 1,000 Singaporeans polled have had personal experiences with online harms.

And 61 per cent who had encountered gender-based online harms had experienced them mainly on popular social media services. (*see clarification note)

MCI said mandating upstream processes and measures will encourage social media services to take greater responsibility for user safety, and reduce harmful online content.

Noting that social media services have put in place community and content standards, the ministry said it will continue to work closely with them to develop regulations fit for Singapore's socio-cultural context.

With the new rules, the country joins a growing number of territories which have enacted or proposed laws to regulate online content.

Germany's Network Enforcement Act, which came into force in 2018, prohibits defined types of illegal content on social media networks with more than 2 million local users.

Among other things, the networks must also set up robust processes to handle and act upon complaints by users on content, and publish biannual reports on their content moderation practices.

Firms that contravene their obligations under the Act can face severe penalties, such as a fine of up to 50 million euros (S$73 million).

Australia's Online Safety Act, which introduces basic safety expectations of online service providers, came into force in January this year.

Under this law, companies which fail to comply with the country's online safety regulator's order to take down illegal and restricted content can be fined up to A$555,000 (S$538,000) per offence.

High fines are also set out in the European Union's proposed Digital Services Act, which will set new standards of accountability for illegal and harmful online content. Aimed at providing better protection for Internet users, it is expected to be passed next year.

Companies that fall afoul of the law when it takes effect could be fined up to 6 per cent of their global turnover. In extreme cases, access to the platforms may also be restricted.

Other laws on online content include Britain's proposed Online Safety Bill, which is also expected to be passed next year. THE STRAITS TIMES

*Clarification note: A previous version of the article stated 61 per cent of respondents in a survey by Sunlight Alliance for Action had encountered online dangers on popular social media services. MCI has clarified it is actually 61 per cent of those who experienced gender-based online harms.

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