By Ali Imran Mohd Noordin
KUALA SELANGOR (Bernama) -- Of late there has been a growing chorus of support worldwide for the enactment of special legislation to check the propagation of fake news.
On Jan 1, Germany started enforcing a law that requires social media sites to remove within 24 hours any offensive or fake content that could arouse hatred. Sites that do not remove such posts could face fines of up to 50 million euro (RM241. 9 million).
The governments of countries like Britain, France and Singapore are currently considering drafting and enforcing similar legislation.
What is certain is that the circulation of hateful content on the Internet has become a matter of concern all over the world, leading to the ongoing debate on the need to draft laws to curtail the posting of fake news.
In the meantime, the authorities are constantly monitoring the situation and organising awareness campaigns to get the public to be wary of fake news.
DOES MALAYSIA REQUIRE SUCH A LAW?
In view of Malaysia's current political climate, which is heating up due to the impending general election, various groups have called for the implementation of laws to check the propagation of fake news.
Among the proposals put forward are requests to amend the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and provide for the setting up of a special unit to monitor fake content, as well as use provisions under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 to nab those who spread fake news.
In fact, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had on Jan 28 said that the government would look into introducing legislation to curb fake news which is a threat to political stability and public order.
Najib's proposal has drawn the support of politicians from both sides of the political divide. Among the Cabinet ministers who have voiced their support are Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak and Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
PAS Vice President Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah and DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang have also spoken in support of the Prime Minister's proposal.
On Feb 7, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said confirmed that the government would meet various stakeholders to discuss the drafting of the legislation concerned, which was expected to be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat in March.
SIMPLE ACT, SERIOUS IMPLICATION
Many people may not be aware that the simple act of posting a message on a mobile chat application can start a chain reaction that can cause chaos in the nation and endanger their lives.
The offending message, more often than not, carries sensational information, with the writer quoting "concrete facts" to convince the readers who, in turn, feel compelled to forward it to their friends.
There are certain quarters who deliberately feed false news or biased news to the public to fulfil their own twisted ambition of creating upheaval and disunity among the people.
At a forum, titled "Bicara Perdana: Berita Palsu Musuh Negara" (Prime Talk: Fake News, Nation's Enemy) that was held at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sungai Besar, Selangor on Jan 26, Universiti Teknologi Mara Faculty of Communications and Media Studies lecturer Anuar Ali said the act of spreading false news was not a new one as it had existed since long ago.
Before the advent of information communications technology, fake news used to be peddled "manually" from house-to-house. Today, it is done via smartphone applications like WhatsApp, Telegram and WeChat.
The forum was organised by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in conjunction with its "sebenarnya.my" tour series, which is part of the commission's activities to prevent the spreading of false news.
"Sebenarnya.my" is an information verification portal launched by MCMC in March 2017 to combat the circulation of fake news.
The recent forum was the first event in its tour series for 2018 and more than 20 activities have been planned until March this year.
Anuar also highlighted a new 'syndrome' called Nomophobia (short for "No mobile phone phobia") that he said was afflicting Malaysians.
This problem generally refers to the pangs of anxiety a person feels if he does not have his smartphone with him all the time or if there is no network connection or the phone battery has run out of power.
"Besides Nomophobia, the smartphone owner can also suffer from the Fomo (Fear of mixing with others) syndrome, which causes them to be transfixed by their phone so that they don't have to mingle with other people around them, " commented Anuar.
Another speaker at the forum, Ustaz Mohd Fauzi Mustaffa, advised mobile phone owners to use their gadgets responsibly.
"Use it for beneficial purposes like searching for information and facts. Use it for positive communications. This way, you can discipline yourself and prevent yourself from getting involved in negative activities like propagating fake news, " he said.
Sungai Besar Member of Parliament Budiman Mohd Zohdi, in his closing speech, said more efforts were needed to make the "strawberry generation" more aware of the pitfalls of circulating fake news on the Internet.
The term strawberry generation is a Taiwanese neologism or expression for children born after 1981 who tend to "bruise easily" like strawberries, meaning they cannot withstand social pressure and tend to have fragile minds.
Budiman, who is himself an avid social media user, said the younger generation should learn to be more discerning and not be easily swayed by any news circulating on the Internet.
"They feel so proud when they know that they are the first to spread a certain news item, without checking whether it is true or not. They don't think of the impact of allowing such news to go viral and don't feel any guilt, " he said.
He also said that local opinion leaders (LOL) should keep themselves well informed to enable them to evaluate the veracity of information channelled to them.
"Portals like sebenarnya.my are alternative sources of information for LOLs and the community on certain issues, " he added.
MCMC Advocacy and Outreach Division Senior Director Eneng Faridah Iskandar said since its establishment about 11 months ago, sebenarnya.my has received about 19 million hits or an average of 70,000 visits a day.
Describing it as a positive development, she said the portal welcomed reports, complaints and news contributions from the public.
"We don't want to just focus on national news or issues and want to add more local news at the district- and state-levels, " she said, adding that the MCMC was collaborating with 22 government agencies and 100 other organisations that were willing to act as reference points to verify news that goes viral.
Eneng Faridah said the number of complaints the MCMC had received in relation to social media reports swelled to 2,319 in 2017, from 742 in 2016.
Most of the complaints were from the central region of Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Putrajaya, that is 357 in 2016 and 1,071 in 2017.