Malaysia mulls over new laws to combat fake news

Fact-checking website Sebenarnya.my has been set up to verify the authenticity of news on social media.
Fact-checking website Sebenarnya.my has been set up to verify the authenticity of news on social media.PHOTO: THE STAR PUBLICATION

Political parties take fight into their own hands amid concerns over national security

PETALING JAYA • 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 was quoted by The Star as saying yesterday.

While laws under the Communications and Multimedia Act could be used to clamp down on fake news, Datuk Seri Salleh said new measures are also needed, citing Britain's move on Wednesday to set up a new national security communications unit as one example.

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 that could cause confusion and disharmony.

Dr Salleh said members of the public could check the veracity of social media news on ­sebenarnya.my, a website set up to dispel fake news.

He also said the MCMC Network Security and Enforcement Sector will be beefed up in the light of a possible increase in fake news leading up to the general election.

SERIOUS THREAT

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.

COMMUNICATIONS AND MULTIMEDIA MINISTER SALLEH SAID KERUAK

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, 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. BN component party, the Malaysian Chinese Association, said its members take the initiative to go on social media to disprove such news, according to its publicity spokesman Ti Lian Ker.

Fellow BN member Gerakan Party 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 issuing statements, short messages or videos," Datuk Lau said.

On Wednesday, the party 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) secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan 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.

However, 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.

Meanwhile, Democratic Action Party national publicity secretary Yeo Bee Yin said the only way for it to counter fake news is to flood social media with posts telling its side of the story. The party has also met Facebook and Google to ask them to ramp up efforts to counter fake news.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysia mulls over new laws to combat fake news'. Print Edition | Subscribe