Parliament Sitting on 4 October 2021

QUESTION FOR WRITTEN ANSWER


39. Dr Tan Yia Swam: To ask the Minister for Communications and Information whether there are policies to prevent hateful or inciteful speech or action being communicated or distributed.

Answer:

1. The Government prohibits all forms of hate and offensive speech and has in place enforcement and legal frameworks to address behaviour that, if left unchecked, may erode our hard-earned social cohesion and harmony. 

2. Under the Broadcasting Act, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) can direct Internet Content Providers to take down material that is prohibited under the Internet Code of Practice (ICOP) – this refers to material that is objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public morality, public order, public security, national harmony; or glorifies, incites, or endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance. IMDA can also direct Internet Service Providers to block access to websites containing such prohibited material.

3. In today’s context, hate speech can also be exacerbated by online tools and malicious actors who spread hate using falsehoods. Falsehoods, including insidious “slow-drip” ones, can create fertile breeding ground for hate, xenophobia, and societal discord. The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) allows us to swiftly clarify such falsehoods. 

4. There are also laws protecting specific types of hate speech, such as against race and religion. Under the Penal Code, it is an offence to engage in actions that deliberately wound the racial and religious feelings of any person, promote or attempt to promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different racial and religious groups, or commit any act prejudicial to the maintenance of racial and religious harmony. 

5. The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) was amended in 2019 to strengthen the Government’s ability to respond effectively to threats against religious harmony in the digital age, when material of all kinds can go viral swiftly. For example, the Restraining Order (RO) was updated to take immediate effect once issued, so that the Government can quickly take down  religiously inflammatory material online and minimise harm.

6. Regulations are necessary but not sufficient to address hateful speech online. There is also a need to foster social norms for respectful online behaviour and discourse. Under Digital for Life (DfL), a national movement to help all Singaporeans embrace digitalisation, the Media Literacy Council (MLC) works with DfL partners to encourage responsible online interactions and civil online spaces, by promoting shared values of respect, responsibility, empathy, and integrity. MCCY also works closely with community partners to encourage ground-up projects that promote racial and religious harmony, such as through the Harmony Fund.