Kit Siang warns government against turning off internet to curb hate speech, intolerance

DAP’s Lim Kit Siang says Malaysia should learn from other countries that engage in dialogues to promote better understanding and tolerance of difference cultures among their population as an ‘antidote’ to hate and extremism. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
DAP’s Lim Kit Siang says Malaysia should learn from other countries that engage in dialogues to promote better understanding and tolerance of difference cultures among their population as an ‘antidote’ to hate and extremism. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 23 ― Malaysia must not follow other governments and shut down the internet domestically to quell a rise in hate speech, intolerance and the spread of disinformation, DAP’s Lim Kit Siang said today.

The veteran lawmaker said the Pakatan Harapan administration should instead learn from other countries that engage in dialogues to promote better understanding and tolerance of difference cultures among their population as an “antidote” to hate and extremism.

“Malaysia must not take this route of internet shutdowns but we must learn from other countries to deal with internet abuses which allow extremist groups to incite fear, hatred and intolerance through false and incendiary internet posts to destroy the fabric of diverse communities.

“We must for instance alert Malaysians to the unusual increase of traffic of fake news and hate speech on Malaysian social media in the past few days as if to provoke inter-racial and inter-religious strife in the country,” Lim said in a statement.

The Iskandar Puteri MP’s warning comes on the heels of Indonesia’s move to reduce internet speeds and subsequently shutting down the service domestically as a measure to clamp down on hoaxes, provocative comments and racist abuse targeting Papua New Guinea’s ethnic Melanesian population.

The Indonesian government cited fears that a stream of offensive and racist posts online will spark more violent protests in the region as riots and demonstrations brought several Papuan cities to a standstill yesterday as buildings were torched and street battles breaking out between police and protesters.

Lim said Indonesia wasn’t the first government to resort to switching off the internet, listing 25 that did so in 2018 and noting the autocratic action that resulted in 188 such blackouts last year from 75 in 2016.

He said there is no proof such bans work.

“They do nothing to moderate the anger that might lead to violence, and dedicated troublemakers can evade them with VPN’s (virtual private network) and other technology or simply by spreading rumors the old-fashioned way,” he added.

He said pictures of the Malaysian national flag being inverted or had its colours changed that are being shared on social media examples of news being deliberately manipulated to skew public perception and create anger against the defilement of a national symbol.

He urged Malaysians to take note of Perak Ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah’s call to turn to common traditional values espoused in Islam and Confucian philosophy to engage in dialogue to better understand each other, accept and appreciate Malaysia’s different cultures.

“I have always believed that multiracial, multi-religious and multi-cultural Malaysia is very well placed as the confluence of the four great civilisations of the world to play a leading role in this “Alliance of Civilisations”, both domestically and in the international arena.

“I believe that  this ‘Alliance of Civilisations’ on the domestic and international fronts to promote understanding, tolerance and mutual respect among different ethnicities, religions and cultures, is the best antidote to check the rise of hate, fear and intolerance through the abuse of the social media anywhere in the world,” added the 78-year-old.

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