Govt to address issue of harmful online content; measures may include new laws

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo noted that the Internet has made widespread dissemination of harmful content swift and easy. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - New laws could be drawn up to counter harmful online content such as violent extremist propaganda as well as the dissemination of voyeuristic material and intimate images without consent, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Communications and Information are reviewing how Singapore should tackle this issue, she said on Monday (March 1) during the debate on her ministry's budget.

"This may include new regulatory levers," she added.

She noted that the Internet has made widespread dissemination of harmful content swift and easy, in ways not possible before.

Many countries see the need for regulations to deal with harmful content, she said, citing how Germany has passed laws requiring online platforms to respond to user complains about unlawful content.

Although some online platforms put in effort to deal with such problems, not every one will respond to such harmful content in a way that is aligned with society's interests, said Mrs Teo.

This is expected, considering how they are driven by their own values and commercial interests, she added.

She noted that many tech companies have acknowledged the need for regulation, but disagreed with governments about how to go about doing so.

Facebook was one tech company that drew criticism for allowing former president Donald Trump and his supporters to push false claims of voter fraud on its site, and for boosting attendance at a pro-Trump mob when it stormed the United States Capitol earlier this year.

The social media giant has since clamped down on false and misleading content, such as removing pages and groups related to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Mrs Teo was responding to Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who asked about ways to protect Singapore from harmful online content following the recent arrest of a 16-year-old self-radicalised Singaporean.

The teenager had made detailed plans and preparations to attack Muslims here after being influenced by live streaming of the 2019 shootings in Christchurch.

The danger of online threats is compounded by the ease of access to the Internet here, said Mr Zhulkarnain, who cautioned that the risk of being influenced by bad material online is higher in young people.

He brought up a 2019 paper by the Institute of Policy Studies, which found that almost half of young people aged 18 to 25 are open to religious extremists publishing their views on the Internet or social media. This is higher compared with the more than a quarter across age groups, he said.

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