PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Malaysian government is looking at laws to deal with the phenomenon of fake news on social media amid worries it could pose a threat to national security.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said current laws are inadequate to handle the growing problem posed by fake news, which is now a global issue.
"Fake news is no longer just about character assassination but is seen by some nations as a security threat. So we too are looking at passing specific laws and adopting models used by other countries to deal with the problem, particularly fake news that could jeopardise our security," he told The Star.
While laws under the Communications and Multimedia Act could be used to clamp down on fake news, Datuk Seri Salleh said new measures are needed.
He cited Britain's move on Wednesday (Jan 24) to set up a new national security communications unit as an example of measures needed to combat fake news.
Last year, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) received 1,203 complaints on false content, online impersonation and fake news.
Access to more than 1,800 websites, portals and blogs was restricted as they were found to be circulating misleading content, information and news that could cause confusion and disharmony.
Among the kinds of fake news affecting security were bogus reports on the Lahad Datu intrusion in Sabah in 2013, which caused fear among Sabah residents.
Dr Salleh advised members of the public not to spread information or news they receive or read on social media without verifying it first.
He added that members of the public could check the veracity of social media news on sebenarnya.my, a website set up to dispel fake news.
Dr Salleh also said the MCMC Network Security and Enforcement Sector will also be beefed up in light of a possible increase in fake news leading up to the upcoming general election.
"We expect to see more fake news circulating on social media as the election draws near and we are preparing for this by increasing manpower to monitor social media," he added.
Political parties have also deployed their communication arsenals to fight fake news ahead of the election.
Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition earlier this month launched an online news portal, called theRakyat.com, to canvass for votes and combat "fake news" on social media.
BN's Strategic Communications deputy director Eric See-To said the coalition deals with fake news by quickly issuing statements to the media or distributing videos via social media platforms to counter allegations.
He said BN members are also encouraged to be active on social media and write opinion pieces for portals.
Another BN member, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), said one way to counter fake news is to immediately report it to the relevant authorities, such as the MCMC.
"We also have MCA members who take the initiative to go on social media to rebut such news," said the party's publicity spokesman Ti Lian Ker . "We train our members to be vigilant against such things," he said.
Fellow BN member Gerakan has formed a publicity team to tackle any fake news that could surface in the election, its vice-president Dominic Lau Hoe Chai said.
"We have set up a war room and will counter fake news through social media and issue statements, short messages or videos," Datuk Lau said. "This election will be tough so we will use whatever media can help us get word to the voters," he added.
On Wednesday, Gerakan lodged a police report against several Facebook users for spreading doctored photographs depicting party president Mah Siew Keong molesting a woman.
On the opposition front, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) said it would rely on its own organs such as the Harakah bi-weekly print publication and the online Harakah Daily as well as mainstream media to counter fake news.
PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan also said the government should set up a special unit to tackle the problem, in the same way Britain has.
"We should do the same here and amend laws to deal with the problem as it could threaten national security," he said.
But the Parti Keadilan Rakyat's communication chief Fahmi Fadzil said that while the MCMC was available, another neutral body should be formed for the task. "The Opposition seems to be bearing the brunt of investigations by the MCMC on fake news," he said, adding that there should be an impartial mechanism to deal with false information.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Action Party said the only way for it to counter fake news is to flood social media with its side of the story.
Its assistant national publicity secretary, Yeo Bee Yin, said the party has met with Facebook and Google, and asked them to ramp up efforts to counter fake news.