SOCIAL MEDIA SERVICES WHICH ALLOW ADVERTISEMENTS TO BE USED AS TOOLS FOR SCAMS OR TO PROMOTE VIOLENCE

Murali Pillai
3 min readNov 11, 2023

I recently received feedback about the prevalence of advertisements on social media platforms (that are accessible from Singapore) as a “catchment” for scams. Some advertisements apparently promote violence too (eg promoting sale of arms!). Concerned about these developments, I filed a PQ with the Minister for Communications and Information asking how she is dealing with such threats. My PQ and her answer may be found below.

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Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Communications and Information (a) whether the Ministry has received information of designated social media services which allow advertisements to be used as tools for scams or to promote violence, which can be accessed from their respective platforms by Singapore-based residents; and (b) if so, what enforcement action is contemplated against these services.

Mrs Josephine Teo: Under the Broadcasting Act (BA), the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has designated six Social Media Services (SMSs) with significant reach or impact in Singapore. They are Facebook, HardwareZone, Instagram, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube. These SMSs are required to comply with the Code of Practice for Online Safety, which took effect on 18 July 2023. They must put in place systems and processes to minimise exposure to harmful content for users in Singapore, including scams and violent content. Singapore users are also able to report such content to the SMSs for removal under their community guidelines and standards.

The BA also provides IMDA with the powers to issue Directions to disable access by Singapore users to egregious content found on SMSs, including content advocating or instructing violence. So far, IMDA has not received information concerning advertisements used to promote violence on any SMS.

As for scams, the police received more than 2,000 reports concerning online advertisements being used as tools for scams, between 18 July and September 2023. The majority involved postings on Facebook. Concerning these reports, the Police have worked closely with the SMSs to remove these advertisements.

Once the Online Criminal Harms Act (OCHA) is brought into force next year, the Ministry of Home Affairs will also have the powers to deal with online content which facilitate or abet crime, such as scams. Designated officers, including from the Police, will be able to issue Directions to online service providers, which could include SMSs, to disable access by Singapore users to specified criminal content found on their services. Such criminal content could include advertisements which are believed to be carried out for scams. This will be more effective than depending on user reports to SMSs, as non­compliance to these Directions will be an offence. The Competent Authority can issue Orders to restrict access to the online services that are non-compliant with these Directions, to prevent the criminal activity and content from being accessed by persons in Singapore. Furthermore, OCHA will also empower the Government to require designated online services, including SMSs, to put in place systems, processes and measures to proactively disrupt scams and malicious cyber activities affecting people in Singapore.

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Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.