Government Passes Social Media Regulation Law Restricting ‘Harmful Content’

Singapore lawmakers on Wednesday passed into law, the proposed social media regulation bill to compel major social media platforms including Facebook, TikTok among others to restrict and delete “harmful content.”

The parliament however assured that the legislation would not affect free speech, but rather restrict life-threatening and injurious contents.

This Week In Asia reports that Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information, Josephine Teo, said that major social media giants were receptive to the regulation which would serve as an online “firefighter” to limit the harm caused by content such as material advocating suicide or self-harm, physical or sexual violence, terrorism and those depicting child sexual exploitation.

Singapore parliament in October this year proposed a bill mandating social media platforms to block “egregious content” including posts advocating violence and terrorism or depictions of child sexual exploitation or posing a public health risk or likely to cause racial and religious disharmony in the country.

Having been passed by the parliament, the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill will become law and binding on the Singapore populace once the President, Halimah Yacob assents to it.

Singapore authorities were said to have in recent years raised concern over the need to amend laws regulating the country’s online space, despite criticism its new legislation such as its anti-fake news legislation elicited.

Many expressed fear that the regulations could be used against critics of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

The information minister, Teo said the legislation would not give the de facto media regulator, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), “unfettered ability” to issue new rules for social media giants to comply with.

“I would also like to remind members of the overarching purpose of the bill – that is to provide a safe environment and conditions that protect online users while respecting freedom of speech and expression,” the minister said.

She noted that under the social media regulation, platforms which default can be fined up to S$1 million (US$715,000).

Teo added that the Ministry of Law is also looking into how victims can be better empowered to stop online abuse, seek redress and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

“This includes cyberbullying and more novel forms of online hurt, such as cancel campaigns,” she said, adding the ministries will be working in tandem to “enhance the government’s regulatory toolkit.”

The minister said that “There have also been reports of users’ accidental deaths while attempting to mimic videos of impossible physical stunts.”

According to her, with the new regulation, social media users are now more likely to see such harmful content on social media feeds that are “pushed via algorithms” and become viral within minutes.

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