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First Reading of Singapore’s Online Safety Bill Begins

On 3 October 2022, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) sent the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill to Parliament for First Reading. The bill proposes new ways to deal with harmful content on online services that Singaporeans can use.

During MCI’s Committee of Supply debate in March 2022, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said that the government would take steps to improve online safety for users.

The goal was to stop harmful content on online services that users in the country could access and to give users the information and tools they need to protect themselves from content that could hurt them.

Getting rid of harmful online content is a worldwide problem. While some online businesses have made attempts to eliminate harmful content, the prevalence remains a worry given the high level of digital penetration and widespread use of online services in Singapore, notably by children.

In January 2022, a survey found that almost half of the people who took part had seen harmful online content. In June 2022, MCI did another survey and found that people were most worried about harm to children. A high majority of respondents (97%) thought that harmful online content can have at least a moderate effect on children and young people.

Respondents thought that young people most needed to be protected from sexual content, cyberbullying, and violent content.

Since June 2022, a lot of people, including parents, teens, community group leaders, academics, and people in the industry, have been consulted about the proposed measures in the Bill.

From July to August 2022, MCI held a public consultation that showed everyone agreed that social media services needed to do more to keep young people safe from harmful online content.

Locally and around the world, most people agree that online services have a duty to keep their users safe from harm. So, the Bill wants to add a new section to the Broadcasting Act (BA) to control Online Communication Services (OCSs).

These are online services that let people access or share content over the Internet or send content to end users. The Bill only covers services that people in Singapore can use and that can be provided in, from, or outside of Singapore.

Social Media Services (SMSs) are a type of OCS that will be listed under the BA and be subject to rules in the new Part. On the other hand, the approach to regulating has two main components: requiring OCSs with a large reach or impact to follow Code(s) of Practice and dealing with content on an OCS that is very bad.

The COP(s) could talk about: a) Appropriate systems or processes that Regulated Online Communication Services (ROCS) providers will need to set up and use to stop Singapore users (especially children) from accessing content that poses a material risk of significant harm, as well as to reduce and manage the risks of danger from content on its service to Singapore users; b) Practical advice on what kinds of content pose a real risk of serious harm to people in Singapore; c) The steps that ROCS providers must take to meet the requirements of the applicable COP; and d) ROCS providers must work together or help experts who have been approved by IMDA to do research studies.

Thus, ROCS providers must take all steps that are reasonably possible to follow a COP and because harmful online content changes quickly, the Bill and the proposed Code of Practice for Online Safety are important steps toward making the Internet a safer place for Singaporeans, especially children.

They will add to what the government is already doing to give Singaporeans the knowledge and skills they need to keep themselves and their loved ones safe online, in partnership with the community and industry. The Second Reading is about to be set on November 2022.

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