Public consultation on proposed online security measures – New compliance obligations for social media services
Social media services have become an integral part of our lives, becoming one of the main platforms for entertainment and communication while providing new work and business opportunities. However, with the prevalence of social media, one of the main concerns for regulators is that of harmful online content. Spread in the digital space, this content can have serious consequences in the real world, including the promotion of violence and self-harm, and the destabilization of mental and physical well-being.
The security of digital spaces is one of the major issues taken into account by the Government. In March 2022, the Ministry of Communications and Information (“MCI“) gave an indication of the changes and improvements that can be expected in the digital regulatory and compliance framework, including the introduction of codes of practice for online platforms to protect Singaporeans from harmful online content For more information, please see our previous legal update on this topic. here.
These proposed codes of practice are now moving closer to being implemented. On July 13, 2022, MCI released a public consultation on proposed measures to improve user online safety in Singapore (“Public consultationThe public consultation sets out proposed measures to tackle harmful online content on social media services, including:
- Code of practice for online security, which sets out the required measures and safeguards against harmful content to be implemented by designated social media services; and
- Content code for social media serviceswhich empowers the Infocomm Media Development Authority (“IMDA“) to order social media services to disable access to harmful content.
The public has until August 10, 2022 to give their opinion as part of this public consultation. This update provides a summary of the main facets of the proposed measures and the obligations that social media services can expect in the eventual codes.
Code of practice for online security
MCI has proposed to introduce a code of practice for online safety, which will cover designated social media services (“DSMS“) with significant reach or impact. DSMS shall put in place certain measures and safeguards to mitigate exposure to harmful online content, including:
- community standards – DSMS shall have community standards for these categories of content: (i) content of a sexual nature; (ii) violent content; (iii) self-harming content; (iv) cyberbullying content; (v) content endangering public health; and (vi) content facilitating vice and organized crime.
- Moderation and deletion – The above content should also be moderated to reduce users’ exposure to it, such as disabling access to this content when reported by users. Child sexual exploitation and abuse material and terrorist content should be proactively detected and removed.
- User Management – DSMS should provide users with tools and options to manage their own exposure to unwanted content and interactions, such as hiding unwanted comments on their feeds or limiting contacts and interactions.
- Safety Information – Easily accessible security information should be provided to users, such as Singapore-based resources or local support center contacts. It is further proposed that relevant security information (such as helplines and advice information) be passed on to users who search for high-risk content.
- Young users – DSMS will be required to implement additional safeguards to protect young users, such as stronger community standards and tools for young users or parents/guardians to manage and mitigate their exposure to harmful content and adverse interactions. Such tools could be enabled by default for account users under 18, with warnings provided when settings are weakened.
Safety information should also be provided to young users and their parents/guardians, including advice on how to protect young users from harmful or age-inappropriate content, and unwanted interactions.
- User reporting and resolution – DSMS will be required to provide an efficient and transparent user reporting and resolution process for users to alert DSMS to content of concern. The DSMS must assess and take appropriate action on user reports in a timely and diligent manner.
- Responsibility – DSMS shall produce annual reports on its content moderation policies and practices, and on the effectiveness of its measures to improve user safety. These reports will be published on the IMDA website
Content code for social media services
The proposed Content Code for social media services is intended to address harmful content that is not managed by the Code of Practice for Online Safety, including extremely harmful content in relation to (i) suicide and self-harm; (ii) sexual abuse; (iii) public health; (iv) public security; and (v) racial or religious discord or intolerance.
The content code for social media services will allow the sector regulator, IMDA, to direct any social media service to disable access to specified harmful content for users in Singapore, or to prohibit specified online accounts on the social media service from communicating content and/or interacting with users in Singapore.
The public consultation reveals a wide range of obligations that can be imposed through the proposed code of practice for online safety and content code for social media services. If these codes come into force, social media services and related service providers will have to ensure that they comply with the relevant obligations by implementing the necessary measures and safeguards. This will require a review of their operations and compliance policies.
Some issues to consider include the criteria used to designate DSMS, whether the designations will be reviewed regularly, the mechanisms of the tools that are provided to users and young users to manage their exposure, the timeline by which social media services are expected to Comply with any guidelines to disable access, as well as the timeline of social media services to implement such changes.
Organizations should carefully review the proposed obligations and submit any feedback to MCI, including the appropriateness of the scope of the obligations and any practical issues that may arise from their implementation.