SG Parliamentarians Participate in 5th Meeting of the International Grand Committee in Brussels
Amidst growing international convergence on the need to regulate the internet to protect vulnerable communities from online harms, two Singapore Members of Parliament participated in the fifth meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation (IGC5) in Brussels, Belgium on 9 November 2021. They were Ms Sim Ann, Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, and Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Development; and Ms Rahayu Mahzam, Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC, and Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Communications and Information and Ministry of Health. Ms Sim and Ms Rahayu are also the co-leads of Singapore’s Sunlight Alliance for Action1 (Singapore Together Alliance for Action to tackle online harms, especially those targeted at women and girls).
The IGC is an international group of parliamentarians who gather to discuss major concerns about the damage that online platforms are doing to their nations’ social fabrics and democratic systems. Singapore participated in the past four editions of the IGC in London, UK in November 2018; Ottawa, Canada in May 2019; Dublin, Ireland in November 2019; and virtually in December 2020. The key themes of this year’s IGC meeting were (i) COVID-19 misinformation and (ii) online hate directed towards historically marginalised groups. At the closing panel, former Facebook product manager, Ms Frances Haugen, spoke about how Facebook’s business model may cause harm to users and the need for greater transparency of research and data from social media platforms. Besides Singapore, parliamentarians from the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and the European Parliament also participated in this year’s meeting.
Tackling important issues of disinformation and online harms at IGC5
- Ms Sim and Ms Rahayu took part in all three panel sessions of the IGC5 on 9 November. They had several useful exchanges with the panel members on:
• The importance of platform transparency and access to data on platforms that was necessary to research. This was key to understanding online harms, and how to address them.
• The need for a multi-pronged approach. While regulation is necessary, it is insufficient in tackling online harms. There is a need for holistic people-private-public responses such as the Sunlight Alliance for Action to address online harms, especially those targeted at women and girls. In this respect, it is key to support victims and empower them.
• The need for international collaboration. This is key for small states like Singapore, and there are huge opportunities for international collaboration.
- There was a clear consensus among the participants that self-regulation by social media companies has not been effective, and regulation is necessary. There was also general endorsement of Singapore’s position that beyond regulation, multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder approaches such as the Sunlight Alliance for Action were necessary to combat online harms effectively.
Working with likeminded partners on women’s development and online safety
- As part of Singapore’s efforts to step up on international collaboration in areas such as women’s development, digital education and online safety, Ms Sim and Ms Rahayu are slated for several high-level meetings during the trip. They will meet the EU’s Commissioner for Equality, Ms Helena Dalli; the Belgian Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity, Ms Sarah Schlitz; and the EU’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, Ms Themis Christophidou on 10 November. On 9 November, Ms Sim and Ms Rahayu met British filmmaker and Chair of the 5Rights Foundation, Baroness Beeban Kidron to discuss her work regarding child online safety, and Singapore’s concerns in this regard, such as the impact of digital technology on youth mental well-being.
1 The Sunlight AfA is focused on closing the digital safety gap, and on taking action to enhance the freedom and safety of women and girls in a digital future.