ON June 13,18-year-old Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) student Veveonah Mosibin uploaded a video to YouTube detailing how she had to climb up a tree to get a strong enough Internet connection to sit for her online exams.
She became an overnight social media sensation and an icon of the growing digital divide between Malaysia’s urban and rural populations, especially those living in far-flung settlements in Sabah and Sarawak.
There was groundswell of support for the gritty young lady, including from some in government. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin singled her out when talking about the developmental challenges in her state, and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission pledged to improve the connectivity in her village.
That was then, this is now.
When asked about the digital divide in the Dewan Negara last Friday (Sept 4), Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin said he had been “given information” that it was all a sham – she had no online exams at the time.
“In this case, we need to be more wary so we don’t get easily fooled by YouTubers or some people trying to raise an issue, ” he said.
The reaction was immediate: The Deputy Minister was lambasted for picking on an 18-year-old student, while some who said they were her coursemates backed her version of events. Faced by such opprobrium, Zahidi quickly posted an apology on Facebook, saying he would inform the Dewan Negara on Monday (Sept 4) that he had been mistaken. Many expected him to make a formal apology to Veveonah too.
Instead, he merely doubled down and fingered Deputy Finance Minister and Kudat MP Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri as his source. Rahim did not respond to media requests but instead posted a statement on Facebook.
And what a doozy it was. Apparently, this Deputy Minister had seen fit to get one of his special officers to do background checks on a young Malaysian citizen and her family, for no real discernible reason. He cited unnamed village chiefs and a UMS lecturer as saying there were no online exams at the time, only online lectures – like as if getting access to these lectures don’t matter either.
Why did these two Deputy Ministers choose to delve into the young lady’s background? What possessed them? What did they hope to gain by picking on her? To stave off possible future criticism that they weren’t doing anything about the digital divide?
And here’s the thing: So what? So what if it turns out – just spitballing here – that Veveonah wasn’t having online exams at the time? Shouldn’t the issue be about rural Internet connectivity?
There is no way out here, no matter what the truth is. All these two gentlemen have done is appear as bullies willing to use their positions in government to disparage a young woman and her family.