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S’pore consulting tech firms on new Internet rules: Josephine Teo

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During her working visit to the US, Minister Josephine Teo (centre, in orange blazer) met with various tech companies including Google.

PHOTO: MCI

WASHINGTON – Singapore’s upcoming set of proposed Internet rules seeks to safeguard the country’s racial harmony and religious tolerance, as well as shield young users from sexual or violent content, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said on Tuesday (June 28).

The Singapore government is consulting with social media platforms to develop these rules for managing harmful online content and improving online safety, she said at the end of a working visit to the United States, during which she met with tech industry leaders in San Francisco.

Mrs Teo elaborated on what the proposed rules might cover in an interview with Singapore media in Washington, her first comments since announcing more details in a Facebook post on June 20.

Two sets of rules are being developed. The first, a Code of Practice for Online Safety, will require designated social media services to have system-wide processes to improve safety for all users, particularly young users.

The second, a Content Code for Social Media Services, will allow the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to order social media services to take down “egregious” content.

Said Mrs Teo: “This type of content is different in different societies. In our context, what we would be most concerned about, would be content that relates to racial harmony and religious tolerance.

“Now, if these things matter more to us, then we have to find a way to make it known to social media services, and to find a way to ensure that we can safeguard these values for our society.”

In her June 20 post, Mrs Teo had also cited sexual harm, self-harm and content that can threaten public health as examples of egregious content.

Such content is not covered under other laws such as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act that addresses misinformation and the Protection from Harassment Act that counters online harassment, said the minister.

Singapore is not the only country looking at such codes of practice, she added, citing similar efforts by Australia, Britain, Canada and the European Union.

Mrs Teo, who in recent days met with tech firms including Google, Twitter and Meta Platforms, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said she had discussed with their staff the Singapore government’s approach to developing such codes of practice.

“We want to understand how their technology works and how these codes can be implemented effectively… Ultimately, we want the same thing. We want people to feel a sense of safety when they engage online,” she said.

Different social media services might intervene differently, she said, adding that the Government would make available to them a draft, which they would then study to explain how it might work in the context of their platform.

During her trip, Mrs Teo and US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also launched a networking programme for women in the Singapore and US tech industries.

Mrs Teo also led a Singapore business delegation to this year’s SelectUSA Investment Summit near Washington, a US government-supported business conference that aims to attract foreign investment.

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