Dewan Rakyat’s second Repeal of Anti-Fake News Act - a fake anti-fake news act as it was really a “Protect Najib’s 1MDB Scandal Act” - paves the way for the nation to fully address the grave problem of fake news and hate speech from destroying plural Malaysia

Dewan Rakyat’s second repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act – a fake anti-fake news act as it was really a “Protect Najib’s 1MDB Scandal Act” – paves the way for the nation to fully address the grave problem of fake news and hate speech from destroying plural Malaysia.

This is what Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018 has to say about the Anti-Fake News Act which was passed on the eve of the 14th General Election and repealed for the second time by the Dewan Rakyat without having to get any more approval by the Dewan Negara:

“No one was under any illusions – not even the then government – that the reason for the law wasn’t essentially political.

“As media academic Gayathry Venkiteswaran has put it: ‘ For most observers, the obvious reason behind this rushed law is to keep the scandalous 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) wealth fund and other financial misappropriations out of the electorate’s focus. This is a punitive law that fails to provide any clarity on the meaning or parameters of ‘fake news’, but criminalises a wide array of speech online and offline’.”

With the fake anti-fake news legislation out of the way, the country should now fully focus on the dangers not only to democracy but the existential threat to plural Malaysia posed by fake news and hate speech specially those designed to incite inter-racial and inter-religious polarisation and conflict, even conflagration.

It has been asked why the apocalyptic scenario when fake news and hate speech was not a recent problem.

One answer of the seriousness of the problem is that fake news has been rated as third factor after nuclear risk and climate change why the Doomsday Clock 2019 is positioned as two minutes to midnight – which is the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953 during the Cold War.

The Doomsday Clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as "midnight" and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' opinion on how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of "minutes" to midnight as a result of unchecked scientific and technical advances.

The Clock's original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 23 times since then, the smallest-ever number of minutes to midnight being two (in 1953 and 2018) and the largest seventeen (in 1991).

The Doomsday Clock was left unchanged in 2019, as apart from the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change, the problem of those threats had been "exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.”

The Doomsday Clock's origin can be traced to the international group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists, who had participated in the Manhattan Project, who published what later became the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on how close to midnight is humanity from self-destruction after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Malaysia should learn from other countries how they are fighting fake news and hate speech by building up the resilience of their citizens to disinformation, misinformation and malinformation.

Finland has been cited as a country which has been quite successful in fighting fake news with a systematic and nationwide campaign since 2014 to educate its students, starting from kindergarten, on how to identify fake news – but Finnish conditions are different from those in Malaysia, and it may not be possible to adopt the full Finnish system in fighting fake news.

Policymakers around the globe have voiced the need to combat fake news and back in 2013, the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report warned that "digital wildfires” could spread false information rapidly.

Germany has already put a law in place to fine tech platforms that fail to remove “obviously illegal” hate speech, while France passed a law last year that bans fake news on the internet during election campaigns. However, some critics have argued that both pieces of legislation jeopardize free speech.

Fake news and hate speech are doubly explosive and destructive in plural societies like Malaysia, with a diversity of races, languages, religions, cultures and civilisations.

This is why it is urgent and imperative that Malaysians give top priority to ensure that Malaysia does not face an existential threat from fake news and hate speech, and why the different models of fighting fake news and hate speech in various parts of the world must be studied so that a Malaysian strategy can be immediately formulated to save Malaysia from being destroyed by fake news and hate speech.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri