With the furore surrounding the proposed online code of conduct, the government is in danger of losing political goodwill whilst not achieving any of its aims.
A code of conduct is not a piece of legislation and if it lacks teeth by way of penalties; it is unenforceable. To begin with, asking the internet community to self-regulate is a pipe-dream. The entire culture online is anti-regulation. If the government on the other wants to enforce the code-of conduct, one wonders what penalties there would be if someone breaches this code. And if there aren’t any penalties, whither the enforcement?
The government should thus instead identify specific behaviour they want to discourage and enact specific legislation to deal with them. For example, they could follow the lead of South Korea which has introduced targeted cyber-bullying and cyber-defamation laws.
By introducing such specific, targeted laws instead of giving the impression they want to regulate the entire online space, the government could also assuage the deep mistrust amongst many leading bloggers that any regulation is politically motivated.
Finally, even without further legislation, many of our current laws are already sufficient to deal with most criminal and civil offences. These if taken seriously and enforced properly, would have far more teeth than a mere code of conduct. Netizens should be aware that they are not citizens of an imaginary online nation where different rules and laws apply; they are first and foremost citizens of a real country – in this case Singapore - with its own sovereign laws that should be respected. There shouldn’t and needn’t be one set of rules and laws online, and another set for the real world.
*This article also appeared in the Straits Times Forum on the 3rd of May as "Targe Specific Acts Online"