The Singapore Perspective

Striking a balance in regulating cyberspace

Singapore has shown many times that it has no qualms about being tough on those who espouse extreme views on social media.

The authorities have to negotiate a tricky line between allowing free speech and being even-handed in their bid to regulate cyberspace - a task that many view as futile.

Singapore cannot afford divisiveness on race and religion. But excessively tough measures will only lead to the Republic being called a nanny state.

Some recent cases have generated robust discussion about social media behaviour.

Last year, blogger Amos Yee, then 16, was sentenced to four weeks' jail after making offensive remarks against Christianity.

He was in court again earlier this year, this time to face six charges of intending to wound the feelings of Muslims, among other offences.

Apart from punishments meted out to promote social stability, there are also moves to tackle the rise of social media marketing.

There are now no guidelines on advertising on such platforms, but a set is on the way from the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS).

Increasingly, businesses are paying social media users to market their products or services. These users do not always declare up front that their postings are sponsored.

Last year, a storm ensued after leaked e-mail revealed that certain bloggers, as part of a promotion strategy for Singtel, complained about the services of other telcos.

The backlash online led to an apology from both the social media marketing firm Gushcloud and the telco.

The public consultation for the ASAS guidelines ended last month.

While observers have said that such guidelines are taking too long to arrive, it is worth noting that any measure that promotes greater honesty online is better than none at all.

Daryl Chin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Striking a balance in regulating cyberspace'. Print Edition | Subscribe