Web framework, education 'should be in tandem'

SINGAPORE - AS SINGAPORE moves to widen the space for constructive discourse online through regulations and new laws, these must come in tandem with public education on Internet engagement norms, say media observers and MPs.

"Hacking, social media, and technology are all part and parcel of the new landscape," said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, on Sunday.

"We need to talk about it in schools and make it part of the education system, for instance, how to use social media well and effectively, and that hacking is wrong."

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, vice-chairman of the same GPC, agreed that education on the dangers was an effective tool.

He also pointed to websites like Factually, run by the Government, as useful in countering misinformation online.

Their comments come after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last Friday that Singapore is in the midst of harmonising new media rules to bring them in line with those for mainstream media.

From next month, to combat trolling - the phenomenon where discussions degenerate into abuse - netizens who comment on the Government's feedback arm Reach will need to register.

Mr Baey, who was from the media industry but is now a full-time MP, stressed that the Government has made it clear the new rules are "not about clamping down on dissent and alternative opinions".

Still, Singapore Internet Research Centre director Ang Peng Hwa pointed to South Korea's experience as an example of how removing total anonymity in online discussions may deter well-meaning users from contributing.

He described how there was no significant drop in the amount of negative content after the country passed a law in 2007 requiring Internet users to provide their names before posting on websites with more than 100,000 visitors.

The law was ruled as unconstitutional last year.

Professor Ang said: "The main concern is that the good guys who have genuine contributions will fear speaking up because anonymity was removed."

Yet, even Internet giants such as Google and Facebook have adopted such "real-name" policies for some services. Last year, China also passed a law requiring people to disclose their real names when signing up for websites.

In Singapore, a survey by Reach last month showed support for the need for legislation to be beefed up to deal with the challenges of the Internet age.

The survey of about 1,000 Singapore residents showed that more than eight in 10 were in favour of tougher measures to deal with harassment, both online and offline.

The same proportion also supported empowering courts to order online comments removed if they cause distress or alarm.

Lawyer Bryan Tan from Pinsent Masons MPillay suggested laws that will allow the authorities to "cut and treat" - by giving them power to remove offensive content quickly and refer cyber bullies for mandatory counselling.

Mr Zaqy said enforcement efforts and muscle had to be enhanced in tandem.

"We will need our enforcement departments to be staffed with more people and technology to pursue the cases."

yuenc@sph.com.sg


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