MO,24/2/2018, THE spread of fake news is a threat to the nation and can cause public distress. Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) Network Security, New Media Monitoring, Compliance and Advocacy Sector chief officer Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek said fake news was easily viralled through social media platforms like Whats App, Facebook, and blogs in a short period of time.
He said this would affect one’s perception and grasp of the reality of a situation as gullible members of the public would simply believe the news to be true ,even if it was completely untrue. Fadhlullah was one of the panellists in a forum organised by Berita Harian entitled ‘Bisa Fitnah Siber’ (The Danger of Cyber Slander) to address the ongoing threat of fake news that is plaguing modern society worldwide.
The other panellists included KRU Studios chief executive officer Datuk Norman Abdul Halim and Kolej Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Selangor Postgraduate Centre director Dr Mohd i Abdullah. Fadhlullah said fake news was unverified and inaccurate news, which served to deliberately misinform or cause harm to one’s reputation. He said the public could be ignorant and easily spread unverified news without checking the facts.
He elaborated on the impact of fake news to a country’s economy, with an example of unverified news that the country was going bankrupt. “This will turn investors away from the country, stunt economic growt hand affect job creation,” he said. He added that the spread of fake news could also affect health and wellbeing. “This includes claims that certain products could give adesirable effect to its users, for example lightening the skin tone although the product might have dangerous ingredients in its formulation,” he said.
He also said MCMC had taken the initiative to curb the spread of fake news by setting up a website, www.sebenarnya.my to counter the information spread online. “If MCMC or the police were to catch all culprits spreading fake news,there will be too many caught,” he said. “The portal also allows the government and private sectors to give accurate information for public for verification,” he said. He said despite this effort, if the public was still defiant and continued to spread inaccurate information they could face legal action based on investigations after a report had been lodged.
The portal has received about 23 million hits since its inception in March last year. He said MCMC continued to update its technology which could assist in furnishing evidence to the police and the court. He said the public also needed to play a role by contacting MCMC if they heard about something which was not true. Fadhlullah said new legislation to curb the spread of “fake news” was to be brought up in Parliament in March.
“The current acts have gaps, as the public moves with technology and changes of behaviour. The new act will address the gap, especially to boost the nation’s security, and needs to be read together with other existing acts. “Germany has embarked on the law to curb fake news by penalising the social media platform that carries the news,” he said. Meanwhile, Norman said the fake news had also affected artistes and media organisations. He said the life of an artiste was often the subject of discussion among the public.
He said irresponsible members of the public could also misuse the logo of a credible news organisation to create fake news or half-truth news. “The public needs to be diligent and check on the source of any information,” he said. However, Norman said there were a small group of artiste‘s who delved into controversy to boost popularity. “Nevertheless, there are also those who became victims of completely untrue stories which are hurting their families, career and reputation,”he said.
“Action should be taken on those who do this. If the public were to be presented with fake news and, as a result, they hit outatsomeone, this is akin to watching a movie where the story is created purely for entertainment purposes,” he said. When it comes to product endorsements, he said artistes had many followers and product manufacturers usually offered them payment for promotion of their products.
“It needs to be differentiated, whether the product are those of the artiste‘s own brand, or those that they personally use and have grown to like without any vested interest or those that are paid advertisements. The public needs to be informed about this as they might be influenced to purchase the product,” he said. Another panellist, Mohd Farid, said the spread of fake news also gave rise to individuals who spread inaccurate information on religion such as on hadith (collection of traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and accounts of his daily practice).
“In this regards, the prophet’s name is not being used in a proper manner thus causing confusion about religion,” he said. He said an example of fake news using religious information was the hadith on the reward for women who accepted polygamy. “There is a wide spread hadith on women being promised a golden umbrella in heaven if she accepted polygamy,where infact there is no such hadith,” he said. He said Islam was are ligion that promoted justice to men and women, especially when it came to marriage.
“In Islam, a matter should not only benefit one party but harm the other party, such as in the case of men who practise polygamy without full adherence to Islamic rules thus causing in justice to the women,” he said. He said the spread of inaccurate information on Islamic religion online was not only confined to the matters of the heart but also extended to current issues to strengthen one’s argument.
“The public needs to be careful as it is very easy to to dupe people based on the appearance of being religious without verifying the source of hadith,” he said. “For Muslims, as we believe in the Afterlife, we also believe that our conduct will be questioned by Allah. Therefore, everybody needs to be accountable to the information that they are spreading,” he said.