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Cyber bullying in Singapore: Guide to new online laws

High rates of internet usage and mobile telephone ownership combined with the popularity of social media have opened up huge opportunities to connect with people near and far. It has also had unintended consequences in creating a new frontier for harassment, which previously took the form of lewd telephone calls or face-to-face slurs. Technology now provides a convenient shield for perpetrators to hide behind. We spoke with Gloria James-Civetta Advocates and Solicitors about new laws passed by Singapore’s Parliament in March, which aim to protect people from this insidious online crime.

Online bullying is a huge problem in schools today 

“Standards of acceptable behaviour should be the same in the physical world as the online sphere,” said Singapore’s Law Minister K. Shanmugam as he recently announced the Protection from Harassment Bill – and it’s easy to agree. With input from advocacy, welfare and community groups, the Bill seeks to address cyber bullying, for which a 2012 Microsoft survey found that Singapore ranked second out of 25 countries. Statistics such as these, along with high-profile examples reported frequently by the media highlight the problem. Here’s a brief overview of what the Law includes…

•Cyber harassment. This is now an offence; it was previously not specifically covered by any Act. An example of cyber harassment is a classmate posting nasty or hurtful comments about their peers on a website.
•Unlawful stalking. This is defined as conduct that causes harassment, alarm or distress to a victim, with that intention on the part of the stalker. Examples include attempting to make communication by any means with the victim, or giving or sending material to the victim.
•Harassment and bullying within and outside of the workplace are now covered.
•Offences committed outside Singapore are covered, if the overseas offender commits acts of cyber stalking against a victim in Singapore.
•Victims can sue for damages or apply to the Court for a protection order. It’s advisable to retain evidence such as harassing emails and text messages.
•The Act applies to children, and education about the legal repercussions of cyber bullying will be rolled out in schools.

In December last year, a 38-year-old Singaporean was convicted of cyber stalking after pleading guilty to 31 counts of intimidation over a six-year period. He received three years in jail and a fine of $5,000 in a Singapore court for the offences against US singer Leandra Ramm. He initially contacted the young singer with promises to assist her career. After she broke off contact, he started sending threatening emails and phone messages which the sentencing judge described as “vile, vicious and vulgar”.