PM Najib and wife Rosmah say they were victims of fake news

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, King Muhammad V, and first lady Rosmah sing the national anthem during the 60th Merdeka Day celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Aug 31, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor have said separately that they were victims of fake news, and pointed to the prevalence of social media for the phenomenon.

Datuk Seri Najib said he expects fake news to be spread widely at the coming general election, similar to what happened in the previous polls that had duped many Malaysians.

"Social media is hard to control. This does not only happen in Malaysia. Almost every country in the world is affected by fake news circulated in social media," he was quoted as saying by Sin Chew Daily newspaper, while speaking at a youth meeting on Saturday.

He cited as an example, the fake news circulated widely during the 2013 elections that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government had flown in 40,000 Bangladesh nationals to vote for it.

"To bring in 40,000 of Bangladeshi workers, 100 units of 747 airplanes would be required. No one saw many airplanes ferry Bangladeshi workers but Malaysians chose to believe such baseless fake news, especially during campaigning period," Mr Najib was quoted as saying. "Some locals were even harassed because they look like Bangladeshis."

Malaysia's next general election is due by August next year, but is widely expected to be held in the next five months.

There was also fake news about a blackout at the counting centre in Bentong, Pahang, to allow top BN candidate Liow Tiong Lai to win, Mr Najib said.

The allegation then was that the blackout allowed extra boxes of fake votes to be brought into the counting hall to help Datuk Seri Liow, president of the Malaysian Chinese Association, to win.

Mr Najib said the government has no control over social media.

"Technology does not permit that. Secondly, people would be angry as they want freedom on the internet. But I would like to remind here is freedom comes with responsibility. This requires people's wisdom and judgement," Sin Chew quoted him as saying.

At a separate function today (Sunday), Datin Seri Rosmah said she has been a victim of fake news and cyberbullying.

"There have been a few Facebook accounts created in my name when I actually don't have any social media accounts and am not good at social media," she told a seminar on cybercrime in Kuala Lumpur, as quoted by The Malaysian Insight news site.

"I don't even have a smartphone," she added.

She said Malaysians should not be easily influenced those who use social media to confuse people and poison minds.

Madam Rosmah, who has a high-profile in Malaysia compared to the wives of previous prime ministers, have had several run-ins with news and fake news spread quickly through social media, including fending off allegations of expensive purchases.

Meanwhile, Malaysian police on Sunday detained a 58-year-old lecturer at a private university for allegedly doctoring the photos of Mr Najib and Madam Rosmah on social media.

Criminal Investigation Department director Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd said the suspect was detained at a residence at about 9.45pm on Saturday, The Star has reported.

Commissioner Wan Najmuddin advised the public not to make derogatory statements about others.

"They should not post any offensive pictures online as well," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.