IF the Internet is a weapon, then many Malaysians are armed to the teeth. And, in a very disturbing way, many are arming themselves to spread disinformation in the cyberworld of social media.
Plus, it’s getting more serious than ever, and the government is taking note.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak had recently said the government would step in and regulate the Internet if bloggers and social media users fail to be responsible and continue to create and spread fake content on cyberspace.
It’s worth noting that such call-to-action shines the spotlight on fake news, slander, and all sorts of digitised misuse and abuse.
Fake content not only disrupts and disturbs our private lives but also threatens peace and harmony of our nation that we have worked so hard to achieve.
The problem with viral disinformation lies — no pun intended — in the fact that once created, people exposed to it run the risk of breathing fresh life into it, and worse, project onto others.
One need not go so far as to examine politics to really identify and understand the detrimental impact of fake content onto Malaysia’s efficacy as a functioning nation.
My throat tightens every time I think about how fake news had caused shoemaker Bata Malaysia serious loss of revenue and reputation for nothing.
All it took was one silly comment from a netizen who claimed that the tread pattern on a shoe model resembled a relgious symbol. Before you know it, the company suffered some RM700,000 in losses due to forced product recalls.
That’s not including the additional RM200,000 bill on remodeling that Bata had to foot to work on gaining people’s trust again.
Fake news not only hurt businesses, it can also cause an upsurge of moral panic — something Malaysia is still lucky not to have escaped.
I shudder when I recall how the rumours of bomb threats in Manila spread like wildfire, back in May 2017, thanks to people’s attraction to and advocacy of viral content.
The message that had citizens of Metro Manila buzzing in fear overnight was said to contain a warning from an “intelligence source” that four Basilan women were planning to bomb a few malls in the city.
What made it all worse was that the message was said to be confirmed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa and spread by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).
Had this information be taken as truth, and not examined and called out for the fake news that it was, so many people could have gone to extreme lengths to alleviate their distress.
Looking at the extent of damage that disinformation can cause, is it really so surprising that the Malaysian government would want to impose Internet control?
It all boils down to emotional intelligence.
If Malaysians cannot even suspend their judgments long enough to contemplate what is real and what is fake, how will they be alert enough to prevent peace-disrupting consequences of moral panic from happening?
If a piece of information is suspected to be fake, yet posits itself as a shareable news on social media, then it’s definitely an issue that needs to be addressed.
Again, anything can become viral on social media, and many people will tend to believe that fake news is true, even when it’s not, due to the many ‘voices’ backing it up.
That the Malaysian government has not yet declared an official law to control our Internet usage, shows that we all still have time to reflect on our digital behaviour.
Are we prone to cause unnecessary alarm, or are we better than that?
Do we deserve the technological advances that we have in our hands?
If we are truly deserving of the technology, then we must be responsible enough to stop, look and think before we depress the forward button.
In the end, self-censorship is the way to go to combat fake information.
Ahmad Kushairi is News Editor (Weekend/Probe/Special Report) New Straits Times