Social media firms to face up to $1 million fine in Singapore under online safety Bill

The Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill was tabled for First Reading in Parliament on Monday (3 October). (PHOTO: Reuters)
Under the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, online platforms will have to put in place measures to mitigate the risks of danger to Singapore users from exposure to harmful content and provide accountability to their users on such measures. (PHOTO: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Online service providers with significant reach or impact in Singapore will soon have to comply with orders by the government to deal with "egregious content" or face a fine of up to $1 million and be blocked in Singapore.

Under the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, tabled for the first reading in Parliament on Monday (3 October), such content includes those advocating suicide or self-harm, physical or sexual violence and terrorism, child sexual exploitation, public health risk, and content likely to cause racial and religious disharmony in Singapore.

The online platforms will also have to put in place measures to mitigate the risks of danger to Singapore users from exposure to harmful content and provide accountability to their users on such measures.

"Tackling harmful online content is a global issue. While some online services have made efforts to address harmful content, the prevalence of harmful online content remains a concern, given the high level of digital penetration and pervasive usage of online services among Singapore users, including children," the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said in a press release.

"Globally, as well as locally, there is widespread acceptance that online services have a responsibility to keep their users safe from harm," MCI added.

The Bill comes after a public consultation exercise with 600 responses from stakeholders including the public, and community and industry groups. MCI also organised engagement sessions with parents, youths, community group representatives and academics.

Audits and risk assessments

The Bill proposes to introduce a new part to the Broadcasting Act to regulate "Online Communication Services", or "electronic services that allow users to access or communicate content via the Internet or deliver content to end-users".

The scope of the Bill includes services provided outside Singapore but accessible to Singapore users.

The Bill is aimed at major social media firms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Failure to comply with stipulated measures and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) directions may attract fines of up to $1 million.

Under the Bill, regulated online communication services will also have to comply with procedures including audits to ascertain compliance, reporting to the IMDA about the measures they have implemented to ensure user safety, and/or conducting risk assessments on systemic risks and taking measures to mitigate them.

The services will also have to collaborate or cooperate with research studies by IMDA experts to understand systemic risks.

For egregious content, three types of directions may be issued by IMDA under the Bill: disable access by Singapore users to the content on the service (for example, a particular social media post); ensure a specified account (for instance, a social media account or channel) cannot continue to communicate to Singapore users; and have Internet service providers block access by Singapore users to a non-compliant communication service.

"In light of the fast-evolving nature of harmful online content, the Bill and the proposed Code of Practice for Online Safety are important steps towards creating a safer online space for Singapore users, particularly children," said MCI.

"They will complement ongoing initiatives by the government, working in partnership with community and industry stakeholders, to equip Singaporeans with the knowledge and skills to keep themselves and their loved ones safe online," it added.

Parliament will debate the Bill at the second reading slated for next month.

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