MP SPEAKS | A few days ago, UK's Sunday Observer carried a report entitled “Will fake news wreck the coming general election?” which shows the ubiquity of the problem of fake news in the world.
In the past two years, one nation after another has been wrestling with the problem and danger posed by fake news.
Indonesia ’s riots in May served as a warning to all democracies with polarised electorates, high social media penetration and institutions labouring under the strain of populist politics.
Indonesia’s unrest was the first time in a democracy that social media-fuelled fake news and disinformation led to election riots.
But what made fake news particularly incendiary and combustible in Malaysia is the country’s diversity of races, languages, religions and cultures. This has resulted in fake news and hate speech designed to incite inter-racial and inter-religious polarisation and conflict doubly explosive and destructive.
Fake news and hate speech can not only destroy plural Malaysia, but they can also destroy the world.
This is why fake news has been identified as the third existential threat to humanity, apart from nuclear warfare and climate change.
The Doomsday Clock in 2019 is currently set at two minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953 during the Cold War.
The clock is a metaphor that visualises the threat humanity faces from unchecked scientific and technological advances, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — a group of experts in nuclear weapons, biological weapons and climate change.
Last year, the clock was advanced 30 seconds due to a higher threat of nuclear war. The clock was updated during tense relations between North Korea and the US, which have since cooled.
On the Doomsday Clock 2019, officials of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said while world tensions have eased, fake news and misinformation pose a higher threat and are contributing factors as to why the clock has remained the same as last year.
They explained that cyber-enabled information warfare exploits human thought and undermines the ability to deal constructively with perils facing the world.
The clock did not budge from last year, but that “should not be taken as a sign of stability,” said Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists CEO Rachel Bronson.
“It is a state as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War,” said Bronson, describing the current climate as “The New Abnormal”.
“The velocity of information has increased by orders of magnitude, allowing information warfare and fake news to flourish.
“It generates rage and polarisation across the globe at a time when we need calm and unity to solve the globe’s greatest problems,” she said.
Bronson added that this new abnormal is “a state that features an unpredictable and shifting landscape of simmering disputes that multiply the chances for major conflict to erupt”.
“We appear to be normalising a very dangerous world in terms of the risks of nuclear warfare and climate change,” she said.
These are among the reasons why all Malaysians must be aware of the existential threat posed to the nation by the untrammelled spread of fake news and hate speech to incite inter-racial and inter-religious polarisation and conflict.
This is also why firm measures must be taken against such spread of fake news and hate speech, without undermining freedom of expression, press freedom and legitimate dissent.
In December last year, a group of parliamentarians from various countries met in London and affirmed that “representative democracy is too important and too hard-won to be left undefended from online harms” like the “co-ordinated activity of fake accounts using data-targeting methods to try to manipulate the information that people see on social media”.
These international parliamentarians, in the interests of accountability, transparency and representative democracy, called for “a system of global internet governance that can serve to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of generations to come, based on established codes of conduct for agencies working for nation-states, and govern the major international tech platforms which have created the systems that serve online content to billions of users around the world”.
If there had not been a change of government on May 9, 2018, Malaysia would stand out as the only country in the world using an Anti-Fake News Act to protect fake news!
The whole world, except for Malaysians, would know about the 1MDB scandal and Malaysia as a global kleptocracy, and any Malaysian who tried to breach this clampdown and censorship on news about the 1MDB scandal would be guilty of an offence under the Anti-Fake News Act and liable to be jailed for six months or fined RM500,000 or both.
Anti-fake news legislation such as the Anti-Fake News Act passed by the previous government must not be enacted to suppress corruption, like the 1MDB scandal, and violate fundamental rights to freedom of expression and legitimate dissent or to curtail press freedom.
Malaysia should play a leading role to curb the abuses and dangers of fake news, hate speech, disinformation and misinformation, not only in the country but in the international community, to ensure that they do not destroy humanity and civilizations.
LIM KIT SIANG is the MP for Iskandar Puteri.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.