The Laws and Reality on Disinformation, Propaganda and GE14.

Like it or not we have a democratically elected government (otherwise no point for having politicians from both side to contest in an election).  As we are facing the 14th General Election, one can reasonably expect to be fed with all sorts of information be it real or fake. Generally we read or watch and believe what is in the mainstream or social medias. Expect a lot of cliches, but when it comes to a lie-filled media, if you/they are not part of the solution, then you/they are truly part of the problem.

Politicians and candidates (maybe not the expired ones) refer to methods which essentially include:

– Cross-linking patterns between media sources offer a view of authority and prominence within the media world.

– The sharing of media sources by users on Whatsapp, Instagram, Wechat, Twitter and Facebook provides a broader perspective on the role and influence of media sources among people engaged in politics through their laptops or handphones.

– The differential media sharing patterns of BN or PH supporters on the social medias enable a detailed analysis of the role of partisanship in the formation and function of media structures.

– Content analysis using automated tools supports the tracking of topics over time among media sources; some call it the big data to strategise their respective winning formula. Qualitative media analysis of individual case studies enhances our understanding of media function and structure.  Some use it to distract or exploit or politicise an issue from the data for own political gain.

The above methods serve no purpose or will be in futile if the information is biased, misinformed or fake.   Above all what the people or the politicians are concern most is reliability of the information or news received, read and heard. Some have used such information as a weapon for millennia, to boost their support and quash dissidence. The word “fake news’ is hardly a term before GE12 but now some see it as one of the greatest threat to democracy, free debate and political maturity.

Ideally journalist, reporter, keyboard warrior, cybertrooper, blogger or politician are responsible to play a role to tackle false or fake news, in disseminating information and to correct any negative perceptions.  But it is unlikely due to partisanship.

In Malaysia the relevant laws include Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission Act 1998 and Sedition Act 1948 (perhaps Defamation Act 1957 for civil suit) are there for the authorities to monitor and take action against offences relating to online or social medias.  Personally I do not think these legislation offer adequate protection or are sufficient to combat and prevent irresponsible parties to spread slanderous, malicious, fake and seditious information/news.

These laws may need to be amended to criminalising what could be classed an innocent but silly behaviour, such as belligerent posts on FB, Twitter, Whatsapp, WeChat and Instagram.  Equally it does not go far enough so as to offer any protection against the publication of false stories.  Fake news will only fall under the remit of this act if it is grossly offensive; any misinformation which is not offensive but is simply untrue will slip through the net.

However there is an inherent risk of infringing freedom of speech and the freedom of the press if new laws are introduced, but this must be balanced against the ease with which information/news can be published.   Some also argued that any fight against the offensive or fake news is a  pretext to censorship or a propanganda.  Some suggested to follow what the China’s government did as to ban FB, Google and Whatsapp in the country.

One may argue that the rakyats today are no more so foolish or innocence to believe whatever they read or see but regrettably some are.  As technology advances, the law must adapt to ensure that it provides an adequate remedy for victims of defamatory allegations, fake news and hoaxes, whether or not these stories are offensive, with the intention to bring down a democratically-elected government or have caused serious harm or financial loss.

The more immediate challenge lies within the availability of resources to effectively monitor publishers of misinformation, and to provide an effective deterrent against the fake news stories which have been increasingly circulated throughout the last couple of years.

At the end of the day, sometimes there can be a little truth of fake news.  Hence as I always tell my family and friends:  “Dont believe it blindly, verify please!”

 

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