Policing social media

IT was reported last week that the Government will take stern action against those who use social media to “incite hatred” against government institutions.

The media also reported on the comments by Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak that a special team would be set up to investigate and take action to deal with this “problem”, viewed by the Government as a serious issue that must be tackled. The team, it is understood, will comprise members from the Attorney-General’s Chambers as well as the police.

These comments followed statements made by the Inspector-General of Police the week before. He has been reported to have said that the police are scouring social media to look for those who share photos and information which are deemed “seditious”. According to the IGP, “immature” social media users forced the police to take these steps.

All this is hardly surprising. The Government could never control the Internet, despite its best efforts. The Internet in Malaysia remains somewhat free – a space in which the rakyat can express themselves in ways they could not normally in real life.

The State is now but one of the many vendors in the marketplace of information. And information, that powerful commodity that once was controlled and dictated by the Government, is now also in the hands of the common man, much to the chagrin of the Government.

This is the reason we have seen an increase in investigations, arrests and prosecutions under legislation such as the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act against social media users. The recent amendments to the archaic Sedition Act appear to target social media users. There has also been talk about how the Government is planning to introduce laws governing social media.

But it is not the State’s business to police the Internet to look for those who offend the Government. It is not the State’s business to make people like the Government.

The world has changed. We are living in a world of instantaneous communication, a world made smaller by the advent of social media, where political leaders and celebrities are closer to the masses than they have ever been in modern history. They are but a click or two away.

The rakyat these days are far more critical than they have ever been. They are not afraid to criticise, condemn, debate, insult and offend their leaders.

Of course, freedom of speech is not absolute. And freedom of speech which is abused to incite harm to others, either through personal injury or damage to property, should not be allowed.

If words have been used which are defamatory in nature, then the aggrieved party has every option to take legal action. But that would be a civil claim, instituted by the person aggrieved.

Do not be mistaken: This does not mean that the Internet should exist in a vacuum, free from culpability.

However, the threshold is not so low that the State must intervene if it is used to insult or offend political leaders. The law does not require the rakyat to be polite and to love the Government.

Politicians need thicker skin. If they cannot handle the heat, then they should leave the kitchen. If they are not happy with what people are saying on the Internet, then perhaps they should review themselves first to find out why these things are said.

Just because the Government does not like what is said in social media, does not mean that a crime has been committed.

There is a vast difference between something criminal, and something which the Government is not comfortable with.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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