Regulation and community partnership needed to tackle online harms: Sim Ann and Rahayu Mahzam

SINGAPORE – There is a growing international consensus on the need for regulation of social media companies, which have not managed to police themselves to a sufficient degree, said Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information Rahayu Mahzam on Wednesday (Nov 10).

These companies have to be more transparent with data, so that regulators can hold them accountable for the safety of users on their platforms, as well as for users to better understand online harms and how to address them, she added,

But regulation alone, noted Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sim Ann, is not enough to tackle online harms. The Government, businesses and communities need to also help to co-create solutions, such as in expediting the takedown of harmful content.

Both parliamentarians were speaking to the media through video-call from Brussels following the fifth meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation (IGC) on Tuesday.

The IGC is an international group of parliamentarians who gather yearly to discuss major concerns about the damage that online platforms are doing to their nations’ social fabric and democratic systems.

Ms Rahayu, who is also Parliamentary Secretary for Health, said a key theme from the discussions is the need for social media platforms to be more transparent and provide access to data for research.

She added: “This is important because it would help all in the ecosystem, users included, to better understand online harms and how to address them, as well as to allow us to hold the platform responsible and accountable for the safety of users.”

She also noted increasing calls worldwide to protect individuals and vulnerable communities from online harms.

Ms Sim said these online platforms must step up as responsible corporate citizens. They should not wait for regulation to demonstrate greater responsiveness to legitimate societal and community concerns.

She also said that there is scope for digital giants to work more closely with trusted community partners to co-create solutions, for instance, in expediting the takedown of harmful content, one of the areas that the Sunlight Alliance for Action (AfA) is looking into.

The alliance, set up in July by the Ministry of Communications and Information, is co-led by Ms Sim and Ms Rahayu. It aims to tackle online dangers, in particular those targeted at women and girls.

Ms Sim also gave an update on the AfA’s work. For example, she said it has recognised that it is key to train social workers and counsellors who are reacting to victims of online harms to understand the nature, gravity and magnitude of the harms.

Other areas include being able to address the emotional distress and fears victims experience, as well as gathering and organising information to point the victim towards available channels of recourse, including legal ones.

Ms Sim and Ms Rahayu also had various bilateral meetings during the trip, such as with the European Union’s commissioner for equality Helena Dalli and its directorate-general for education, youth, sport and culture Themis Christophidou on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, they met British film-maker and chair of the 5Rights Foundation, Baroness Beeban Kidron, to discuss her work regarding child online safety.

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