PM, Yaacob post on free speech online

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (above) and Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday posted comments on the need to practice freedom of speech responsibly online. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (above) and Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday posted comments on the need to practice freedom of speech responsibly online. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday posted comments on the need to practice freedom of speech responsibly online.

They were commenting on a Financial Times article on a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which said that websites should anticipate the type of stories that may attract insulting comments - and be prepared to remove them promptly, or even moderate comments before they are published.

Dr Yaacob, in his Facebook post, said many other countries face similar issues in dealing with "irresponsible online comments".

A number of websites, he added, have put in place ways to promote "healthy conversations" online.

These include the United States-based news website Huffington Post, which requires users to log in before commenting, while Google is looking at how to manage comments on YouTube.

In Singapore, the Government's feedback arm Reach has, since last December, required users of its online forum to log in with their Facebook accounts.

The requirement encourages "responsible comments" online, Dr Yaacob said, adding: "The right to speak freely and responsibly must go together."

Mr Lee said in his Facebook post that he agreed with Dr Yaacob's stance on the need to balance speaking freely with doing so responsibly.

"The freedom of speech does not come free from the need to be responsible for what one says, either online or offline," Mr Lee said in the post.

On the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, he noted that "freedom of speech is considered almost a sacred virtue" in Europe.

And yet, the court "ruled that when a website publishes a controversial story that may attract defamatory or insulting comments, the website must anticipate this trolling and flaming, and be ready beforehand to remove these comments promptly".

"It is not the last word on the matter. But it reflects how societies are still finding the right balance between freedom of speech and responsible online behaviour," Mr Lee said.

"This is a tough problem to solve but we need to develop our own ways to keep online conduct civil and constructive," he added.

maryamm@sph.com.sg