A look at the burning issues on Malaysia’s social media scene and some answers from local professionals

1416
Picture credit: elijah-o-donnell

A survey conducted by WFTV with the help of Syed Mohamad Idid, an independent PR consultant in Kuala Lumpur shows a divide in opinion when it comes to the role-played by social media practitioners in the country’s decision-making process.

Since the May 9 election debacle of the Barisan Nasional regime, the Malaysian social media scene has been a hive of activity that has contributed to the strengthening of the freedom of expression in Malaysia.

Nine months down the road, it was necessary to gauge the thoughts of some professionals (from various fields) on the role of social media in the country.

Two questions were thrown at Malaysians of various professional backgrounds. They were about the absolute freedom enjoyed by Malaysians on social media under the Pakatan Harapan government and if that posed security risks to the country and whether there should be a sort of control imposed on the social media?

Many thought there should be some form of control or some sort of social media guidelines/ethics for the public to follow, while others believe social media should be left to grow on its own, without hindrance.

In response to the survey, an educationist said there should not be any control over anything.

“Stop controlling everything! Curb religious bigotry instead if you want my fast, instant and honest opinion! There I said it,” she said.

However, others want a form of authentication of online posts. A PhD student said: “There should be some control by using authentication for the genuineness of each information (posts) uploaded.

Nevertheless, many pointed to what they called online ‘stupidity’.

“Control oneself… Not the media. If you have nothing good to say, don’t say… No one will tell you, you are dumb (Chinese saying),” said a lawyer, who added “stupid people are a threat to national sanity and security; not social media. But we can’t regulate stupidity, so we rely on the law to control wildfire laser mouth commentary. There are enough laws to deal with it. No need to further regulate.”

Another lawyer said: “My late grandfather used to tell us – if you have nothing good or nice to say about somebody or something, just shut up; don’t say anything. Except he said it in Malayalam and it was so much more meaningful.

A former national news agency reporter says the social media scene is ‘too free’, “in the sense that one can post just about anything, including things that can incite racism, religious fanatism, social bullying, character assassination, herd-mentality violence, etc.

“How to control it? I think education at a young age on social media ethics (and other social media do’s and Don’ts) is becoming increasingly important.

“Imposing legislation will be complex, with the need to balance freedom of speech with responsibility towards society, and how to punish offenders (e.g. should there first be warnings to take down offensive materials before taking someone to court). I don’t think I can give a brief answer to this complex matter…,” says the reporter, who adds “Yes.. Through education and very carefully-thought-of legislation….”

Most of the professionals showed their disagreement over attempts to control social media networks, but a Millennial has this to say:

“No, I don’t think social media is too free, I think it’s meant to be that way. In cases where it threatens national security, I think the government should find ways to work around new issues brought about by social media, without impeding on the freedom.

Control of anything to me is just a superficial, easy way out of dealing with situations. In the long-term it doesn’t actually solve anything.

“Like banning books or china censoring websites, people can still find easy ways around these “controls”. Just download a TOR browser! Or Get a VPN! So many people do it.”

A young female reporter thinks it’s too late to curb on social media which has proliferated into the lives of the Malaysians with deep impact.

“You can’t curb social media. It’s too late for that. It has its benefits and downside. The only thing we can do is to educate people on how to use it.”

Parents, however, are concerned that their children are hurling offensive phrases at each other online.

They believe people are spending too much time online and on frivolous issues.

“Yes, and too much time is devoted to entertaining non-constructive comments. Threats to national security are subjective to what is intended to be protected at the end of the day.

“Any exertion or control over social media would be seen as the stifling of freedom of expression. Rather than a retrospective exertion or control, proactively educating people over the potential loss of time, the potential effect they cause of a situation and how while each voice is valuable, that voice needs to me self-moderated would be more ideal,” said an educator.

Some believe the social media is a trojan horse and is beyond control, or it is here to stay, just like cars and no one wants to ‘control’ car usage simply because it can get people killed or it can be used as a getaway for robbers.

Below are some valuable comments based on the queries by WFTV:

“Social media is a tool, a form of escape or a way to incite hate. It can be a place to find love…”

“Social media by its nature is free and can not be controlled. Any attempt to do so would ultimately fail.

“The best way to handle the social media is to expose the truth, share facts, hastily and hopefully it will correct any misinformation/fake news.”

“We have more than enough laws in the country governing every facet of our life from A-Z. If the social media run foul with any of these laws, what is there to stop the authorities to act against them as they do with others?”

“Take action against seditious postings.”

“Q1 yes, too free…yes a threat too. Q2 yes, there is some need of control. by legal means.”

“That is no threat as one should look at the comments they received thoroughly before blindly spreading information. Many times they do not apologise to their friends when it’s wrong. In today’s world, news on the road reporting is faster than the media, and this can’t be stopped.

“There is no need to control, people should be mature enough to judge what is right and wrong… my two cents comment.”

“Currently social media seem to be the major platforms for people to criticise and lash out on any issues, where everybody from all over the globe can access. At some points may tarnish the country’s image, perception and thus, reputation.

“Despite the rights for freedom of speech, I really think that such trend in communication should be regulated with sort of control mechanism at the national level – let it be a preventive, detective and corrective controls. We should have social media’s guidelines/ethics for the public to follow i.e. online social networks that offer means of digital social interactions and information sharing among the users.

This followed by a serious awareness campaign by the relevant authority, digital media & perhaps social influencers, especially on the punitive actions should they choose not to abide.

“Hence, tighter enforcement of internet/online regulator/authority in Malaysia such as SKMM and Cybersecurity should be firmly taken.

“Social media is not a threat – it is a medium of communication. The threats could come from the contents as people don’t know how to use it and therefore abuse it to achieve their own ends.

“Since its a medium there should be no control, but guidance can be given for the type of content that is/are posted. This guidance should be well communicated to reach its target & objectives.”

“Looking at how people use social media today, I would say that it’s uncontrollable and comes with endless possibilities. Be it in a good way or the opposite. Malaysia is a libertarian country. The focus has been on the distribution of news/comments about the government, specifically about political news, which has been the focus of censorship on social media and the other stuff going on in it is secondary. So, I feel that it would be a threat to the national security if some other topics are taken lightly.”

“Yes, there should be a control over the social media. Controlling the dissemination of information that’s circulating online can bring so much in efforts to prevent criminal issues. National security should be able to detect when users are spotted leaving comments (about war, killing, genocide and others) and should take further actions to investigate what the user is trying to say. Putting some control over the media is alright, just enough to give the people an awareness that they are being watched so unnecessary behavior can be avoided.”

“Yes, it is too free and everyone has been going about ‘spilling’ words, even when they know nothing of the truth. And yes, it can be a threat. We’re exposing too much.

“I can’t think of any control suitable. And I don’t think that people should be controlled to voice out their opinions. But I do believe that if efforts are made to spread better awareness of everything, people will have higher integrity. But it should start really early. Most people who have been spreading rumors, confidential files and such, I don’t think it would happen if they are taught to be responsible from the beginning. That is why we need to empower education.”