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New Alliance for Action to tackle online harms, especially those targeted at women and girls

New Alliance for Action to tackle online harms, especially those targeted at women and girls

File photo of someone using a phone and looking at a computer.

SINGAPORE: A new Alliance for Action to tackle online harms, especially those targeted at women and girls was launched on Wednesday (Jul 21) by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI). 

Alliances for Action are industry-led coalitions that work in partnership with the Government.

This comes after the Ministry engaged more than 300 stakeholders from February this year on issues like technology-facilitated gender-based harassment, unwelcomed interactions online and online platforms that encourage vice and harm, it said in a press release. 

“We discussed the very concerning impact that these online harms have, especially when it comes to women and girls,” said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann, who chairs the alliance with Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information Rahayu Mahzam. 

“Through the course of our engagement, we have found that there is broad recognition that some online harms constitute a grave concern to society,” she added. 

“There is also a collective will to help our women and girls, close this digital safety gap so that they can enjoy the same degree of freedom and confidence that they do online as they do in real life.” 

READ: Standing up to trolls and cyberbullying: How to deal with online harassment

The alliance will focus on “closing the digital safety gap” and “taking action to enhance the freedom and safety” of women and girls in “a digital future”, said the Communications and Information Ministry in the press release. 

A key recommendation that arose in discussions was the need to develop support mechanisms and infrastructure for victims of online harms, the press release read. 

“One of the thrusts of this effort is to actually create better norms in developing safe, more responsible use of digital devices and online spaces,” said Ms Rahayu. 

“The platform allows for the opportunity for the members to look at some of the more granular issues and perhaps come up with a bit more targeted solutions.” 

Noting that the digital space is evolving, she added: “We would depend very much on the experience and expertise of our members as well as the public in giving insights so that we can continue to shape and nudge people towards being more responsible being more respectful in their use of digital devices and the digital space.” 

The alliance will start with 48 members across the public and private sectors to address the issue of online harms in five key areas - public education, research, victim support, youth engagement and volunteerism. 

The alliance is also exploring partnerships for the cause. The ministry is supporting a community hackathon with DBS and the Singapore Judiciary that kicks off on Wednesday, meant to “generate innovative solutions” for safer and kinder online spaces, it said in the press release. 

Individuals who are interested in tackling online harms and contributing to the alliance can indicate their interest at go.gov.sg/mciafa.

COMMENTARY: For victims of stalking, a new court may relieve some of the bitter agony

Responding to a question about how the alliance plans to tackle non-arrestable offences related to online harms, like taking unsolicited photos of women in non-compromising positions in public spaces and sharing them online, Ms Sim said members had “good ideas” about resources to educate individuals, as many of these actions actually can be prosecuted under the law. 

There is recognition that conversations need to be initiated to “help people understand” that something that might not be illegal now could still be detrimental to women’s safety and dignity, she added. 

“We have very enthusiastic ideas about this, which I also hope as these conversations develop, will also eventually feed back into our legislative processes because how we choose to regulate society is something that must constantly take reference from evolving social norms,” said Ms Sim. 

“This is a very good opportunity for women and girls to speak up about what makes them uncomfortable, what makes them feel unsafe. I believe that our stakeholders in the law enforcement space, they will be very willing to listen to these voices.” 

Source: CNA/hw(ac)

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