Singapore can now order social media sites to block access, as ‘online safety’ law kicks in
Singapore now can issue directives for social media platforms to block local access to what it deems as “egregious” content. The new regulation also allows access to such sites to be cut, if the operators refuse to comply with the directive.
Effective from February 1, the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act enables industry regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to direct “online communication services” to disable local access to harmful content.
This includes, amongst others, content advocating or instructing on physical violence and terrorism, as well as content that pose public health risks in Singapore, said the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
First mooted in parliament last October and passed the following month, the Act introduces a section to the Broadcasting Act that allows for the regulation of online communication services. For now, only social media services are specified and subject to the provisions outlined in the new section.
If issued with directives to disable access, social media platforms are expected to do so by blocking the “flow of content” from a specific source, such as an account, group, or channel, that is feeding the egregious content to their site.
Operators of online communication services that have been issued such directives must comply or face possible fines. They also risk having access to their services blocked locally, as the law allows for IMDA to direct internet service providers to block access in the event of non-compliance.
IMDA also can identify online communication services with “significant reach or impact” as platforms that fall under the regulated section. They then must comply with codes of practices that may require them to implement systems and processes to “mitigate the risks of danger” to online users in Singapore from exposure to harmful content.
IMDA has drafted a Code of Practice for Online Safety for social media platforms, which is expected to be implemented in the second half of the year. It includes the need to provide users with access to tools that enable them to manage their own safety as well as minimise their exposure to unwanted interactions on the social media platform. The Code points to tools that restrict visibility of harmful or unwanted content and that limit visibility of the user’s account.
Under the proposed Code, online communication services providers face a maximum fine of SG$1 million for non-compliance.
When the Online Safety Act was mooted in parliament last October, questions were raised on what constituted to “egregious” content and the law’s impact on user privacy and freedom of expression. Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo then noted that in cases where the content might be tougher to define clearly, IMDA would assess the context.
While acknowledging that there were “legitimate privacy concerns”, Teo said the proposed code of practices would provide users a recourse such as user reporting mechanisms.