Oxford report on fake news sends timely warning to M'sia

Lim Kit Siang

Modified 28 Sep 2019, 6:36 am

MP SPEAKS | Malaysians must give serious attention to the latest Oxford Internat Institute (OII) Report on 'The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation' as it gives a timely warning of the national risks if fake news and hate speech to incite inter-racial and inter-religious polarisation in Malaysia are allowed untrammelled licence.

Fake news and hate speech are evil influences by themselves, but when coupled with the agenda to incite inter-racial and inter-religious polarisation in plural Malaysia, they become exceedingly toxic and destructive, which must be checked if the fabric of Malaysian society is not to be torn asunder.

The latest OII report finds that organised social media manipulation has more than doubled since 2017, with 70 countries using “computational propaganda” to manipulate public opinion.

Facebook is the platform of choice and is used in officially organised campaigns taking place in 56 countries.

The report states that such tools are used in 45 democracies, by politicians and political parties, to amass fake followers or spread manipulated news to garner voter support.

It said: “The manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy, as computational propaganda becomes a pervasive part of everyday life.

“Government agencies and political parties around the world are using social media to spread disinformation and other forms of manipulated media. Although propaganda has always been a part of politics, the wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raises critical concerns for modern democracy.”

The report also stated that 87 percent of countries used human accounts, 80 percent used bot accounts, 11 percent used cyborg accounts and seven percent used hacked or stolen accounts to spread disinformation.

Oxford researchers examined how cyber troops used different communication strategies to manipulate public opinion, such as creating disinformation, mass-reporting content or accounts, and employing abusive strategies such as trolling, doxing or harassment.

The report found that 52 countries used disinformation and media manipulation to mislead users, while 47 used state-sponsored trolls to attack political opponents or activists in 2019, up from 27 countries in 2018.

This reminds me of a secret directive sent out through WhatsApp by Umno psy war headquarters to Umno cybertroopers to target DAP to cause the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government and save former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak from being sent to Sungai Buloh Prison.

The WhatsApp secret directive, which I saw in May this year, read:

Arahan dari HQ, sekarang pastikan setiap posting kita tumpu pada DAP dan kalau boleh gunakan kreativiti untuk kaitkan dengan isue bangsa dan agama.

“Mengikut maklumat intel, akan ada pendedahan penyelewengan pemimpin Umno terbaru dari Kerajaan, kita akan counter dengan kaitkan dengan DAP, pastikan team focus pada isu DAP tidak kira isu apa pun.”

The events of the past four months have confirmed the credibility of this WhatsApp message, as there had been an upsurge of fake news and hate speech to incite inter-racial and inter-religious polarisation coupled with baseless attacks on the DAP.

There is clearly a new game-plan to cause the collapse and disintegration of the Harapan government by creating or magnifying rifts and divisions between political parties and personalities in Harapan, and distorting them into racial or religious conflicts.

Malaysia featured quite prominently in the OII Report, which estimated that there were some 2,000 organised cybertroopers in the country.

While the country is experiencing a new phase in politics post-14th general election, Umno leaders and cybertroopers have abandoned all pretensions of moderation and balance to sabotage the Harapan government, in the hope that the Harapan government in Putrajaya and in the various states would not last the full term, thus allowing Umno to return to power before the 15th general election.

Former Umno deputy minister, Tajuddin Rahman (MP for Pasir Salak), had confirmed that post-14GE, Umno leaders and cybertroopers under Najib had launched a “scorched-earth” policy to take the vicious and toxic politics of race, religion, hate, fear and lies to an extremity never seen in Malaysia before.

On the eve of the Sungai Kandis by-election gathering in August last year, Tajuddin (photo) made the wild, preposterous, reckless, most incendiary and seditious allegation that the DAP has an agenda to Christianise Malaysia and that the DAP and “Christian-led Harapan government” would want to abolish the Malay monarchy and establish a republic.

He claimed that there was a video featuring Christian pastors celebrating Harapan’s victory during the May 9 general election, on the grounds that the Christians have taken over Putrajaya and other states.

I am not aware that there is such a video. More than a year had passed but Tajuddin has not produced such a video.

Tajuddin accused DAP ministers of being dominated by Christians like Anthony Loke, Tony Pua and Hannah Yeoh.

I am not aware that Pua and Yeoh are ministers. Pua and Loke have Christian names but are not Christians.

Tajuddin has committed a political sin by alleging that the cabinet is controlled by Christian evangelists when there is not even an iota of truth.

This is unpardonable: after more than half a century of nation-building, Umno leaders (now joined by PAS leaders in an alliance of klepto-theocracy) are trying to perpetuate the misconception that a Christian or non-Muslim is anti-Islam, and a Chinese or Indian is anti-Malay. This undermines the very basis of Malaysia as a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation.

In fact, our very diversity in ethnicity, religions, languages and cultures is an unique asset for the nation and not a liability.

I do not believe that a Malay is anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, anti-Kadazan, anti-Iban in the same way that I do not believe that a good Muslim is anti-Christianity, anti-Buddhism, anti-Hinduism, anti-Sikhism or anti-Taoism. Similarly, a Chinese or an Indian is not anti-Malay, and a good Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or Taoist is not anti-Muslim.

Immediately after the 13th general election in 2013, Umno-BN propagandists went to town to allege the DAP funded a fictitious “Red Bean Army”(RBA) of 3,000 cybertroopers with a budget of RM100 million to RM1 billion in the previous six years to attack the Umno-BN authorities and to defame Umno-BN leaders over a whole variety of issues.

They even alleged that the Red Bean Army had two operational centres, one based in Hotel Concorde in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Komtar in Penang.

I recalled that when the propagandists stepped up their barrage of lies, fake news and false information about the DAP-funded RBA, I led a team of DAP MPs, accompanied by journalists, to make a surprise visit to Concorde Hotel on the night of July 4, 2014.

We found Concorde Hotel crawling with Umno leaders and operatives but no Red Bean Army. We found something even more shocking – that the exorbitant ice-kacang in Concorde Hotel had no red beans at all!

Astronomical expenditures

However, what was interesting about the Umno-BN allegation concerning the RBA was that it revealed the modus operandi of Umno-BN in recruiting cybertroopers, especially the funding.

No Umno-BN cybertrooper or election worker would volunteer for free or work only for “water and sunshine” but had to be paid, and paid very handsomely!

The going rate for the Umno-BN cybertroopers would be RM500 to RM3,000 monthly, including free telephone gadgets and laptops.

Just before the 14th general election, the Umno information technnology bureau organised a convention for some 3,500 Umno cybertroopers.

Taking an average expenditure of RM2,000 a month for each Umno cybertrooper, this would come to some RM7 million a year. This would not include the expenditures incurred by cybertroopers engaged by other units or state outfits of Umno-BN.

Who paid the bill for these astronomical expenditures and where did the enormous amounts of money come from?

LIM KIT SIANG is MP for Iskandar Puteri.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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