A WhatsApp joke has been making the rounds:
Before Fake News Bill 2018
Dungu: I'm on the way, a bit jam lah.
Abuden: Ya, me too, traffic really bad.
After Fake News Bill 2018
Dungu: Still in bed; I overslept.
Abuden: Ya, me too. See you in an hour.
People have been lying since the serpent told Eve back in the Garden that everything would be fine if she ate that fruit.
These days, the truth has been so bent out of shape that election machineries that have traditionally been the foundation of modern democracies have faltered; rife with twisted untruths and blatant lies.
The United States of America has had its citizens manipulated into voting a candidate that is worthless; one who has none of their best interests at heart.
The United Kingdom has withdrawn from the European Union under false information provided during a referendum; albeit one that was wholly unnecessary.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have been fingered. The next few days will probably hold an avalanche of further information.
Fake news, if you will permit me a colloquialism, is certainly a pain in the butt. The problem is, that it means that every new morsel of information has to be scrutinised to assess if it is genuine or just plain bunk. Clearly, discretion ought to be a part of every human interaction, but these days, it is so well-disguised as truth, that spotting it is becoming more difficult.
Having anti-fake news laws would act as a deterrent for malicious parties seeking to spread disinformation, but what constitutes "fake news"?
In Malaysia, the law covers digital publications (like news websites and blogs) and social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) and will purportedly apply to offenders who maliciously spread fake news inside and outside Malaysia.
This includes foreigners, but one really questions how this law could claim extra-territorial jurisdiction; i.e. apply to a citizen of a foreign country without having any extradition treaties with sovereign nations.
My issue really is that this law is being used to stifle dissent and criticism; not to mention prevent the public from being informed of the shenanigans of the ruling coalition. 1MDB is one of the biggest fiascos in the world, and I am still thinking of that Mongolian model blown up with C4 explosives.
News like this is particularly critical, considering the impending elections. The Malaysian government has always had a tenuous grasp of the concept of truth, as it frequently lies via the newspapers and the government owned TV channels.
The question is whether the public will allow itself to be manipulated into self-censorship or will it be business as usual?