IF I were asked what my aspiration for the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) initiative is, I would say a developed nation with people who can think critically.
At the Eighth Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987, Michael Scriven and Richard Paul defined critical thinking as the intellectually disciplined process of actively conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.
In other words, critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking when evaluating a plethora of information presented to readers.
It was reported that most Malaysians cannot really tell the difference between real and fake news. Some fake news are published and labelled as satire.
However, when people share articles without reading beyond the headline and critical thinking, a story that was supposed to be a parody can end up being taken as the truth.
We saw how fraudulent stories impacted the presidential election in the United States last year. Among others, there was a viral post that proclaimed Pope Francis and actor Denzel Washington had endorsed Donald Trump.
In December 2016, a gunman fired shots in a Washington DC pizzeria just because of an online hoax that connected Hillary Clinton to a fictitious child sex-trafficking ring.
Even hospitals are not spared. An Ampang hospital was alleged to have released a toxic fragrance for 16 years. Despite the hospital’s repeated clarifications, the false news is still on social media today. And the list goes on.
This type of social media attacks or news is very disturbing because, according to the 2016 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, 69% of Malaysians get their news from social media, which means they have a high susceptibility to misinformation and fake news.
The issue now is do we have sufficient law in place to curb false news? Section 8A of the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984 states that those who are found guilty of maliciously publishing any false news shall be liable to a jail term not exceeding three years, or a fine not exceeding RM20,000, or both.
Similarly, section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 allows the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to impose a penalty of up to RM50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year on people who spread false information with malicious intent.
Alternatively, one may opt for a lawsuit under the Defamation Act 1957 or the Penal Code if the defamatory elements can be proved accordingly.
In March 2017, the Malaysian Government launched ‘SEBENARNYA.MY’ (pic) to help the public detect fake news.
Most recently, the MCMC warned WhatsApp group administrators of prosecution if their groups were caught spreading fake news.
Some quarters argue that everyone should be responsible for verifying news or information spread through social media and not just group administrators.
The law seems to be adequate but why are we still exposed to a regime of false news on social media? One reason could be the difficulty in tracing its source.
The root cause of the widespread circulation of fake news could also be due to lack of critical thinking.
We often spread news without evaluating them, and evaluation comes with critical thinking.
Hence, it is advisable to get news from reputable and independent sources, to do research and read beyond the headlines. To do so, we must exercise critical thinking to identify the authenticity of the news.
False news should not be shared; that’s the surest way to stop it from spreading.
Good critical thinking is the foundation of democracy.
The proper function of a liberal democracy requires citizens who can think critically about social issues to inform their judgments about proper governance.
We should not tolerate false news which ultimately influences our perspective through biases and prejudice.
It is pertinent that the younger generation should start thinking critically in evaluating various information as an agenda towards TN50. Only then can a developed, mature and democratic nation be a reality.
“The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think.” – Albert Einstein
NG SENG YI
Third-year law student