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Telegram unresponsive to SG's requests to remove explicit content

Telegram unresponsive to SG's requests to remove explicit content

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Instant messaging platform, Telegram, has not responded to requests by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) to remove access to accounts disseminating sexually explicit materials, said Sun Xueling, minister of state for home affairs, in parliament on 22 November 2023.

However, she highlighted that there has recently been improvement in the government’s engagement with Telegram. “We will continue to work with them and other online platforms to better protect Singapore users from harmful content,” she said.

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This comes as the Singapore government seeks to foster a safer environment on online platforms in the country. Sun also cited the Online Criminal Harms Act as another measure to safeguard the dissemination of inappropriate materials in Singapore.

“When the Online Criminal Harms Act is operationalised progressively from the first quarter of 2024, the police can issue a disabling direction to online platforms such as Telegram to prevent such materials on the platform from being accessed by Singapore users,” she said.

In these cases, authorities can also issue access blocking orders, app removal orders, or service restriction orders to the internet service providers or app stores to restrict access and prevent the content from being accessible in Singapore.

“Non-compliance by the online platforms with these directions will be an offence,” she added.

However, she noted that responsibility for online safety also extends to the online platforms themselves. “Online platforms also have a responsibility to proactively curb the spread of harmful online content and to ensure that their services are safe for their users,” she said.

She added that the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) Code of Practice for Online Safety also requires designated social media services to put in place systems and processes to minimise exposure to harmful content for users in Singapore. Currently, Facebook, Hardwarezone, Instagram, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube are the six designated services in Singapore required to comply, based on their significant reach and impact.

Singapore users can report harmful content to these services for appropriate actions to be taken. The IMDA will also periodically review if other social media services, such as Telegram, should be designated under the Code of Practice for Online Safety.

However, she emphasised that online services will also determine the outcomes of the current safeguards.

“The effectiveness of our enforcement system depends on the responsiveness of the online service,” she said.

Addressing the matter of possible age restrictions on these platforms, Sun mentioned that IMDA is also in the process of discussing this with the various platforms.

The government has been amping up efforts to create a safer social media experience. For example, in July 2023, the IMDA introduced a new law to minimise advertisements appearing on the social media accounts of children. This was part of an effort to minimise children’s exposure to harmful content.

A statement by the IMDA at the time said that social media accounts belonging to children must not receive advertisements, promoted content, and content recommendations that may be detrimental to their physical or mental well-being.

Under the new law, the six designated social media services had to enhance online safety measures by including tools to hide harmful content and unwanted interactions, limit location sharing, and the visibility of their accounts from other users.

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