Govt to consult public on cyberbullying laws

This will be part of an inter-ministry review, to be done by year-end

THE Government will hold a public consultation exercise as part of an inter-ministry review of cyberbullying laws.

The review is expected to be completed by year’s end, said a joint statement from the three ministries undertaking the review, in response to queries from The Straits Times.

These are the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, the Home Affairs Ministry and the Law Ministry.

The review is part of a two-pronged government approach for tackling cases of cyber-harassment and cyberbullying. The other prong is an ongoing effort to encourage the Internet community to come up with a code of conduct.

Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean noted the need to curb such activities when he said in Parliament last month that as Singapore becomes more diverse, there have been ‘new stresses and strains’ and incidents of friction where some people ‘express their views in an unfettered way’.

Since last November, people have reported to the police at least four Singaporeans who allegedly made racist remarks on Facebook or Twitter. The latest involved a polytechnic student who tweeted a derogatory comment about Indians on March 25.

Most states in the United States, as well as Australia, India and Britain have laws that prohibit cyberbullying. Some are broad laws covering the public. Britain’s Communications Act, for example, forbids anyone from sending a message that is offensive or menacing via any public electronic communications network.

Others specifically protect young people. For instance, education laws in California disallow students from bullying other students or school staff, and this includes posting threats on a social network or website.

Some of these laws were introduced after incidents of cyberbullying. In Missouri, the 2006 suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier after being bullied online led to the state passing an anti-cyber-harassment law.

In Europe, where many countries do not have specific cyberbullying laws, other steps are taken to protect young people. In 2009, the European Commission got 17 social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to sign an anti-cyberbullying pact, pledging to protect users’ privacy. For example, the sites must make it easy for users to report inappropriate behaviour and ensure the profiles of under-18 users are private by default.

Most Singapore lawyers contacted said Singapore should consider broadly targeting acts such as harassment and invasion of privacy, rather than aim specifically at online bullying.

This approach will ensure the laws stay relevant as society evolves and different communication media emerge, said Drew and Napier’s Mr Adrian Tan, who specialises in online defamation cases. ‘We should focus on the social harm caused rather than the means by which the harm is delivered,’ he added.

But litigation lawyer Indranee Rajah wants a law that specifically clamps down on harassment or bullying.

The current Miscellaneous Offences Act is not good enough in such cases, said Ms Rajah, who is also chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Information, Communications and the Arts.

It fails to cover conduct that does not directly threaten the recipient but which is still harassment, such as posting a phone number online and inciting netizens to harass the target, she said. She argued that an anti-harassment law should ban any action ‘calculated to provoke anxiety, distress or fear in a person’.

Political analyst Derek da Cunha wants a privacy law to stop people from taking pictures and videos of others and posting these online to ’embarrass or ridicule them’.

But whatever laws are enacted, they should not restrict fair comment, said Ms Rajah and blogger Alex Au.

Mr Au wants more latitude for fair comment when the person is a public figure. ‘People should be allowed to speculate on politicians as it brings into public discussion what a person’s true loyalties and attitudes to life are… This benefits society as a whole,’ he said.

ST Published on Apr 2, 2012
By Tessa Wong

You Say :

  •  I think the best way to combat this problem is to prevent people from hiding behind a pseudonym. Make it a law to put their real names and contact information so that they can be made answerable for their comments.
  • The lack of social responsibilities of all concerned is the main challenge. How to make it eventually reconcilable, and yet not stifling?
  •  It is not so much will people conform to it, rather it is will the website confirm to it?
    How do you compel facebook to even verify all identify of its Singapore base account is a daunting task.
    How do you compel the owners of website like TRE to come clean about who they are and where they are based?
  • Eventually if we believe in human goodness and are prepared to robustly and openly challenged those practicing socially irresponsible acts, and without too draconian measures, we should have majority of the people on our side. However, at the prevailing infancy state of cyberworld, we are still muddling along, searching for the proper ways
  • I was reading something written by social scientist Prof. Wilson about “The rediscovery of character”. He believes that character was formed in groups and order exists becos systems n beliefs held by society sets limits to what members can do, ie sort of “peer pressure” society wise. So if we all exercise our commitment to human goodness, we can, collectively, shape the mindset of the citizenry and instigate demand for decency and behavioral compliance. It might not be practical now world-wise, but might be quite achievable in the local context … at least it is a starting point!
  •  so speak up folks.
    Only if you speak up can you exert the “peer pressure” to “collectively, shape the mindset of the citizenry and instigate demand for decency and behavioral compliance.”
  •  a hotline of sorts, by Phone or email, would be great. The professionals there can then make an assessment whether the posts are considered cyber bullying or not and can advice next course of action.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by anon on April 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I find it strange that the comments you posted seem to have no relevance at all to cyberbullying.

    If we are sincere about curbing bullying online (i.e. the use of the Internet to ridicule another person), we should be targeting that specifically and not imposing some blanket law that is really yet another attempt at censoring criticisms or feedback on government policies.


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