As the general election is at the door, Malaysia sees dramatically increasing false and misleading narratives online. Fake news is being used as an instrumental tool to change public perception, gain support, influence voters, or defame a rival political party and undermine its credibility.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon; it existed since the invention of newspapers, magazines, and TV, mainly in the tyrant, corrupted societies.
The new communication technologies (social media, digital media) have just sophisticated and enhanced the way and methods of creating and spreading fake news.
Certain politicians and their supporters and cyber troopers continue to spread the fake news on social media and other platforms of communication just to confuse people, netizens, and news readers in general.
Falsehood is becoming truth, black becoming white, innocent becoming the perpetrator, and the perpetrator becoming the innocent.
This could not only lead to public confusion, but it could lead to the downfall of regimes and leaders and the destruction of institutions, national harmony, and development.
Misinformation, slender, propaganda, and hoaxes spread online either from the mainstream media or independent media news portals and blog, via greedy, malicious politicians, have a significant impact on the public perceptions and society as a whole.
To successfully curb fake news, government and leaders must first give us the right definition of it (what does it mean actually?), before creating awareness, applications, and laws to eradicate it.
Fake news can be defined as a fabricated content that intentionally masquerades as news coverage of actual events, or slender or hoax, created with the intent to attract more audiences either for business gain or political motivation, or to defame or overthrow a leader, or gain or stay in power.
We cannot blame only social media users, or bloggers, or independent media for spreading fake news. Mainstream media that spin facts and hide truths, for example, can also be the biggest contributors to this phenomenon and the biggest threat to national well-being.
What does a politician or a leader, like Donald Trump, mean by the fake news that he mentioned 10 times a day before he ever became the President of the United State of America?
When President Donald Trump talks about fake news, he means something else entirely, said PoliFact.
Instead of fabricated content, Trump uses the term to describe news coverage that is unsympathetic to his administration and his performance, even when the news reports are accurate, PoliFact said.
Therefore, we should not politicize fake news or use the term as propaganda to hide facts to mislead the people.
The only way to get rid of fake news is to – tell the truth to the media and to the people.
Not well-informed or misinformed citizens can be more destructive to a nation than fake news. They cannot make the right decision that the development and future of the nation remain at stake.
The media, either online media or print media or TV, can create perceptions and influence people’s decision, attitude, and mindset, and eventually stand as a stumbling block against prosperity and development.
Politicians or leaders, who are holding great positions in the society, are actually not blaming fake news, but blaming the media, particularly the media which are not supporting them or which tend to do their work professionally and sincerely.
What does fake news mean to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and Barisan Nasional government leaders?
This is the question that we have to define first of all, before moving to create more laws.
According to the opposition leaders, BN leaders must face fake news with telling the truth, show evidence and facts, instead of creating more laws to curb on the media or social media users.
However, there are some allegations that are hard to prove wrong!
And others are just hard to prove right!
Any allegation or report not supported by evidence or proof is bound to fail and be classified as fake news.
In this age of advanced digital technologies, social media, and multimedia, everything seems to be fake and confusing.
“Anyone with a computer or a cell phone can post in online forums. Anyone with a moderate amount of skill with Photoshop or other image manipulation software can distort reality. Special effects make even videos untrustworthy – we have a problem here!” (Gillmor, 2004).
A graphic designer, who knows how to manipulate photos and pictures, can create deceptive images which need its authenticity verified.
Any videographer, experts in visual art and motion graphics, can create deceptive videos that could create illusions and hoaxes.
Anyone can be a journalist today as long as the internet is “free” to create a blog or a Facebook account and start disseminating news and information.
The new communication technologies can create suspicion and confusions among the public. As the American writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler (1971) stated in his book `Future Shock`, “we are increasing the sophistication of deception faster than the technology of verification. The consequence of that is the end of truth. The dark side of information technology explosion is that it will breed a population that believes nothing”.
There would be a problem if facts are distorted by non-professional journalists and the bad politicians who feed them with lies and misleading information.
Such deceptive posts, articles, information, photographs, and videos are widely spread on social media. And some people view, watch, and believe.
More than that, they share and comment, and even get irritated or disturbed, and some get dumped off!
Government and opposition politicians, as the general election is at the door, should not use the propaganda of fake news as a catalyst to influence voters and get power. They have to think of the future of this nation.
Politicians should not win seats and high positions at the expense of people ignorance of facts.
It is true that fake news threatens the national harmony and can lead to chaos or havoc, as Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak said.
It is true that “sharing and posting unverified news on social media not only confuse the people but it can be a threat to national security,” as Communications And Multimedia Content Forum Of Malaysia (CMCF) chairman Datuk Ahmad Izham Omar was quoted as saying by NST a few days ago.
But it is also true that confusion can lead to the same consequences.
Thus, we should fight fake news as much as we fight confusing news.
For example, the widely or globally spread news alleging that Jho Low has stolen money from 1MDB, and the government simple denial, without any strong proof, is not only betraying the public or defaming certain political party but also confusing the public. Moreover, it is creating more conflicts among the politicians and the public.
So, should we blame the internet and social media users, or the politicians who are incapable of presenting facts?
Social media, of course, help spread fake news, but not all fake news can lead to havoc or a public disorder – unless it is related to or used by a political party.
A fabricated report or fake news about a murder or an ordinary accident would not lead to havoc or a public revolution or racial conflict unless it has something to do with politics.
Now since Malaysia is a democratic society, and heading to be a developed nation, cannot just simply use the term ( fake news) as a justification to curb freedom of speech or cut the internet or ban social media or stop social media users from sharing and commenting or expressing their views. Instead, the government should ban and charge politicians issuing fake information, wrong statements, or misleading facts.
There is a court and law in this country, if a media or a journalist posts a fabricated, defaming, or malicious content, he can be held accountable, sued or taken to court.
In many cases, regarding fake news, slender and defamation, opposition leaders sued many mainstream media and won big compensation – no need to mention here which media was sued or which opposition leader sued – you can check that yourself.
We can much agree with Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (CMCF) chairman Datuk Ahmad Izham Omar who said: To curb fake news, netizens should practice “self-regulation” when using the social media and apply the “3R concept – research, responsible and report any fake news.”
However, the big question here, why he did not urge journalists to learn or adhere to the ethics of journalism and be professional?
We understand that social media users are not journalists. They are not the ones who produce or disseminate big news, or investigate and expose mega corruption cases – they are only news consumers.
He even urged, and we agree with him, parents “to play a role by educating their children on social media ethics”.
But, he does not blame news portals or politicians who are producing and posting fake news. So how can we tackle this phenomenon from a holistic perspective?
_Malaysia World News