The New Straits Times  

2 Feb 2018

It is no surprise that “fake news” was named the word of the year in 2017. As the brick-and-mortar world slowly begins to metamorphose into a digital world, fake news begins to take on a whole new meaning.

In the old world, fake news meant what the print media never reported. You could tell a fake news item when you saw one. Not anymore. Not in the speed-of-light world of cyberspace, where fake news takes on the appearance of truth and is spread at breakneck speed.

Small wonder that people call this day and age a post-truth world, where fiction wears the robe of fact. Merchants of fake news see the information superhighway of the cyberspace as an opportunity for their manipulative machinations. Added to this is what techies call “echo chambers” — people who pass on fake news through social platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter. And, the velocity of circulation is mind-blowing.

How do we stop these menacing monsters? Some people say that since it is a post-truth world, there is no market for truth. They cannot be more wrong. Values still matter.

Doing the right thing is, thankfully, still in vogue. People see good in what is right, and bad in what is wrong. Evil was never on par with good, and never will be. If the end is good, so must be the means. The end cannot justify the means.

Many are agreed that the problem of fake news is both deep-seated and widespread, as this paper has reported. Some argue that space must be given to free speech. This is not an argument for free speech, but a freedom to spread lies. There is neither legal nor moral privilege to put in motion lies, especially those that cause harm. Like the rest of the world, we too must begin to wage our war against fake news.

It appears that education — religious and moral — has had little effect on this millennial menace. It is time for the long arm of the law to do the battle.

Some lawyers argue that Malaysia has enough laws in the statute books to deal with all issues concerning fake news. They summon in aid the current Communications and Multimedia Act 1988, Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984, Sedition Act 1948, Defamation Act 2013 and Penal Code.

Firstly, some of these laws were drafted with the brick-and-mortar world in mind, a world of hardcopy newspapers and broadcasters. The medium and the message have changed since then. So has the way the news was created and curated by them.

The suggestion that no new laws are needed is akin to putting the cart before the horse, as the special committee to study the need for such a law has just had its first meeting in the dying days of January. Also, some of our old laws have left issues of jurisdiction and enforcement unresolved.

We, living astride the old and digital world must, perforce, resolve them. This, we believe, the special committee will ably do, given its membership.

(First published in The New Straits Times – )