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Singapore mandates social media sites to block harmful content sites

Aiming at strengthening online safety, Singapore Parliament on Wednesday passed a law that requires social media sites to block access to harmful content “within hours”.

If an online platform refuses to take down harmful content, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) can issue a direction to Internet access service providers to block access by users in Singapore.

The code proposes a maximum fine of SGD 1 million (Rs 5.81 crore approx) for a social media service that does not comply with its practices or with directions to block access to harmful content.

Under the new law, IMDA can also direct an Internet access service provider to block access by users in Singapore, in the event an online communication service refuses to take down a harmful online content.

First tabled on October 3, the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill empowers the IMDA to deal with harmful online content accessible to Singapore users, regardless of where the content is hosted or initiated.

Currently, Singapore’s Broadcasting Act does not cover entities that operate outside of the country.

During the debate in Parliament, Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo said, “Our approach has been to identify and address specific areas of harm in a targeted manner.” “As to whether the laws will be consolidated later, that remains to be seen. At this time, it is more important that we put in place legislation that effectively addresses and combats the respective harms,” the Channel News Asia quoted Teo as saying in the House.

During the debate, which spanned two days, nearly 20 Members of Parliament (MPs) cutting across party lines highlighted the rising prevalence of harmful online content, with some calling for more safeguards to protect particularly vulnerable users such as children.

Teo acknowledged that some egregious content may fall under grey areas which can be difficult to define clearly. In such cases, IMDA will take an objective approach and consider the context in which it is presented.

Several MPs called on the government to specify a fixed time period within which social media services must take down harmful content.

In response, Teo, without mentioning a specific time frame, said the timeline stipulated by IMDA would generally be “within hours”.

Social media services will also be required to act on user reports in a timely manner, with timelines expedited for terrorism-related content, she said.

On the exclusion of private communications from coverage under the law, Teo said, “The short answer is that there are legitimate privacy concerns.” But users will have recourse as a draft code of practices for online safety will require designated social media services to provide easily accessible user reporting mechanisms.

“While we do not intend to police private communications, we’re also aware that there are groups with very large memberships, which could be used to propagate egregious content, making them no different from non-private communications,” Teo said.

IMDA will be empowered to take the same actions against groups in such instances, she said. PTI

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