No, self-regulation online is sufficient, others argue

Yes to self-regulation, no to a code of good conduct.

Last Monday, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim called on the Internet community to create a code of conduct for responsible online behaviour.

He said: "The Internet is very much a public space, and the community is best placed to determine what online behaviour is acceptable and what is not."

"Just as we have social norms to guide our interaction in the physical world, there should also be similar norms to guide online behaviour and interaction."

Dr Yaacob's comments came during a time when rumours were being spread online of children being kidnapped.

Then there was the Filipino teenager residing here who was wrongly identified by netizens as another boy who had annoyed neighbours with his loud drumming.

But social media experts The New Paper spoke to were not in favour of an online code of conduct.

Singapore Management University law lecturer and Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Eugene Tan said the Sedition Act, the Penal Code, and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act were there to deal with transgressions.

Existing codes

Additionally, Internet service providers and Internet content providers must comply with the Media Development Authority's (MDA) Internet code of practice.

MDA's code, among others, prohibits any material glorifying, inciting or endorsing ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance, Associate Professor Tan said.

Agreeing, former NMP and blogger Siew Kum Hong said: "Just because self-regulation may not work does not logically mean that government-imposed regulation would work."

Crimes still take place in spite of laws, he noted.

Both Mr Siew and Prof Tan argue that self-regulation has worked.

Said Prof Tan: "The Online Citizen is an example of self-regulation, notwithstanding that it is gazetted as a political association.

"It has to police the comments that are posted on its website. Likewise with TR Emeritus."

In another example, polytechnic student Lai Shimun was quick to apologise for her racist tweet, and level-headed netizens also cautioned others from further stoking the fire, Mr Siew said.

As for "witch hunts" - such as netizens putting the personal information like addresses, employment details and photographs of "offenders" online - Mr Siew said these are "better addressed through privacy laws" and not by an online code of conduct.

He said: "It is the invasion of privacy that is causing the harm.

"The fact that it is taking place on the Internet amplifies the reach and the harm, but the essence of the harm is not that it is taking place online."

But Nanyang Technological University associate professor Cherian George said: "We need stronger laws to protect ordinary citizens, especially the young, from cyber-bullying and privacy invasions. "There will be broad public support for such laws if it is guaranteed that they are not Trojan horses for tighter government regulation of political speech, which would be uncalled for."

Elsewhere, efforts by the US to regulate the Internet have not been successful.

Earlier this year, two bills in the US Congress attempted to target international online piracy through new Internet regulations.

A massive protest across social media platforms pressured lawmakers to abandon these bills, social media expert and Virginia Commonwealth University's assistant professor Marcus Messner told TNP. Like Mr Siew and Prof Tan, Dr Messner does not see how government regulation of the Internet can prevent online bullying.

A more effective approach, he said, would be to educate Internet users early, ideally from primary school, on how to interact with others online.

But University of East Anglia's lecturer Daithi Mac Sithigh told TNP the Internet is moving,"to some extent", towards a more controlled environment.

"My current research explores the way in which smartphone apps are regulated, and there are some platforms where the developer of an app must comply with strict conditions in order to have it approved."

But he also cautioned that too much control could impact innovation.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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