Why we need the Anti-Fake News law — Joshua Phang

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APRIL 2 — There is a cacophony of voices both online and offline, discussing the Government’s plans to introduce Anti-Fake News laws in Malaysia.

A check across social media feeds shows that many people are not happy about it. We’ve had online media representatives and Opposition politicians making all manners of statements pointing out its negatives.

Someone went to the extent calling it ‘the last sliver of democracy left’.

That’s dramatic and also very worrying. Because you see, fake news can cost painful losses. In this age of social media that allows fast and easy distribution of information to large groups of people, it is one of the fastest ways to sway perception and we have seen it at work.

Fake news led to shoe company Bata Primavera Sdn Bhd losing more than RM500,000 in just one month after an allegation went viral about the company selling shoes with the Arabic word “Allah” formed in the pattern on the soles.

Fake news also led to 3,105 Tabung Haji depositors losing their turns to perform the Haj when they withdrew money from their accounts after an article filled with lies by an Opposition leader.

A large multinational corporation like Nestle fell prey to fake news that the Ministry of Health had ordered the company to recall its Maggi products due to high plumbum content. The Ministry denied issuing such an order and said the case had occurred in India, not Malaysia.

Fake news also led to unnecessary public confusion when a fire broke out at EPF’s building in Jalan Gasing recently. In what I felt was the most inhumane response, people began panicking that their EPF savings were affected by the fire because of irresponsible parties making false allegations.

An Anti-Fake News law could have prevented the occurrence of such unwarranted situations.

Individuals have become victims of fake news too. In early March, news went viral that Tan Sri Tony Fernandes was leaving AirAsia to join the fintech industry and the company had to mobilise resources to issue denials, in addition to the man himself having to fend off a host of queries as the news spread like wildfire.

Recently, a picture of Lim Guan Eng’s son wearing a red watch went viral alleging that he was wearing RM350,000 Richard Mille watch when in fact he was wearing just a Tissot watch valued at about RM1,880.

In these politically charged days, fake news makes its way to us on a daily basis.

Character assassinations, conspiracy theories — many undiscerning Malaysians lap it all up and get trigger happy to share untruths on the pretext of keeping others informed.

It’s hard to put a lid on this one but it’s about time for a solution if we don’t want to end up widening fault lines in our society. With the Anti-Fake News law proposal, the Government is trying to address this problem that can put our companies or even loved ones in serious trouble.

Fake news is not just a Malaysian problem. Other developed nations around the world are also taking measures to counter the spread of fake news. Germany introduced the Net Enforcement Act (NetzDG) counter fake news in June 2017. France and Singapore are also planning to introduce similar laws.

For those who are so keen to shut this proposal down, one cannot help but ask, is it because they want to keep creating fake news?

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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