DOES MALAYSIA NEED ANTI-FAKE LAW?
The impact of fake news on society is real and it is intended to manipulate readers into believing that it is true
ACYBER activist said to me recently that “fake is now the rage”, although the term “fake news” was seldom found in the mainstream media two years ago. It was United States President Donald Trump who “trended” it last year.
Since then, other terminology have surfaced as its equivalent — counter-knowledge, alternative facts, post truths, comparative narratives, or just plain lies. Fake news is typically published on web sites or social media either for profit or “social influence”.
Paradoxically, the impact of fake news on society is real. In one actual case over a year ago which came to be known as “Pizzagate”, fake news publishers circulated a conspiracy theory that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other Democratic political figures were coordinating a child trafficking ring out of a Washington, DC pizzeria by the name of Comet Ping Pong. In a bizarre turn of events, a man who read the fake news drove from North Carolina to Washington, DC and fired shots with his assault rifle at the actual Comet Ping Pong pizzeria as part of a misguided vigilante investigation. He was subsequently arrested.
The three elements of fake news are falsehood, knowledge and intent. News published are fabricated and untrue, with the publishers knowing them to be false when they were published and disseminated. Fake news is disseminated by their authors with the intent that readers will believe them to be true and act accordingly. Authors intend the fake news they publish will go viral on the Internet.
Fake news is not the same as “false news” — the latter contains elements that are untrue or exaggerated but circulated without the author realising they are inaccurate or untrue. This can happen because the author has failed to verify all the facts before publishing his story. Negligent and reckless writing (whilst they may attract legal liability) are also not in the same category as fake news.
An English daily (The Guardian) has come up with a good definition — fake news is anything that is “completely made up, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention, and with it, advertising revenue”. This definition demands a high threshold to be met, requiring proof of “intent” — that the aim of the false information is to manipulate the reader into believing that the story is true. The story (on the eve of polling in the 2013 general election) that thousands of Bangladeshis have been brought into the country to vote for Barisan Nasional is clearly fake news as it contains all the elements of the above definition.
Some quarters claim that the term “fake news” has been used by politicians and government leaders to refer to anything they disagree with. As an example, Trump had tweeted on Feb 6 last year that “any negative polls are fake news, just like CNN, ABC, NBC…”.
President Emmanuel Macron has recently proposed an antifake law for France, having promised to his people to crack down on the proliferation of online disinformation in the country. His aim is to empower the government to scrap “fake news” from the Internet and block websites disseminating disinformation during political elections. His reasoning is that disseminating disinformation poses a threat to public order.
Last June Singapore Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters that Singapore intends to pass a new anti-fake news law this year after a survey revealed that 91 per cent of Singaporeans support such a law. He stated that the new law is not meant to target “erroneous reports that have been inadvertently published”.
The minister said that misinformation deliberately used to spread hate, undermine the integrity of domestic politics, or for monetary profit is fake news. As an illustration, a video of Muslims celebrating a Pakistani cricket match victory uploaded on the Internet was misconstrued as a celebration of the 2015 terror attacks in Paris. Viewed 500,000 times in two hours, it was a clear case of somebody exploiting public emotions to stoke anti-Muslim feelings, he added.
Germany passed a new law last year in June to crack down hate speech, criminal material and fake news on social network. The law requires social media platforms to remove hate speech and other “obviously illegal postings” within 24 hours after receiving a notification or complaint, and to block other offensive content within seven days. It came into force in October.
Last month, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the establishment of a special antifake news squad to combat “disinformation by state actors and others”. Explaining the move, she said: “We are living in an era of fake news and competitive narratives.”
Malaysia, too, has announced its intention to enact such a law. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said last week that a special committee formed to draft such a law would seek expert opinion on the media, constitutional issues and the Internet.
Expressing a contrary view, Bar Council president George Varughese said Malaysia has enough laws to combat fake news and therefore, there is no need for any new law. He agreed, however, that maybe there are some elements in the new law that are not covered in existing legislation.
We have to see the content of the new law first before we can answer whether such a law is necessary.
The three elements of fake news are falsehood, knowledge and intent.
Fake news is typically published on websites or social media, either for profit or social influence.