Govt looking into the possibility of blocking Facebook in Malaysia
Why not just remove ourselves from the international community?
JUST about a week after former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad called for the Malaysian Government to censor the Internet, Communication and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek declared that Putrajaya would look into the possibility of blocking Facebook in Malaysia.
Dr Mahathir’s call for censorship came about after Facebook blocked direct linking on its network to one of his blog posts.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Shabery said that there were 2,000 reports of abuse on the social media network, according to an article by national news agency Bernama published in The Malaysian Insider.
He did not say if these reports were police reports or complaints filed with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the industry regulator which falls under his ministry’s portfolio.
“If the people are of the opinion that Facebook should be banned, we are prepared to look into the matter, but it is a radical approach," he told reporters on Aug 8.
Ahmad Shabery said he was aware that it would be impossible to close the social website as there were 15 million Malaysian accounts compared with 2,000 reports of abuse, according to the Bernama report.
I wouldn’t want to be in the minister’s shoes right now, because it’s obvious that he is trying to juggle between common sense and playing to the gallery, admitting that it would be a “radical approach,” but still saying the Government is “prepared to look into it.”
Why even look into such a ridiculous suggestion? Even if the Malaysian Government isn’t seriously considering this, giving such a notion airtime is a dangerous game of domestic politics that will have international ramifications.
It sends out a call to the rest of the world that Malaysia is prepared to join the dubious ranks of countries such as China, Iran, Iraq and Syria, not exactly bastions of democracy.
"Many businesses are also using Facebook,” Ahmad Shabery (pic) said, in furthering his own argument that blocking Facebook would be an idiotic move, although he was too polite to say so.
Indeed, as I told a former colleague of mine from The Star when asked my opinion, social media – especially Facebook – is now interwoven into every aspect of our personal and professional lives, and the minister seems to be aware of this.
Many businesses – both domestic and multinational – use Facebook, whether for corporate communications or to run marketing campaigns, It is integral to their business, and their operations.
Banning Facebook means cutting off Malaysian-based employees from this communications channel, and would be a clear signal to multinationals that they would not be able to establish proper operations in this country.
Many businesses, especially the technology and Web 2.0 startups that have been established in the last three or four years, not only depend on Facebook for business, their business is social media.
The Government launched the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) in April, in conjunction with US President Barack Obama’s visit. Banning Facebook would be anathema to our efforts to promote and develop entrepreneurship in the country.
In mid-2012, we launched the third of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s transformation initiatives, Digital Malaysia. Tied closely to the Economic Transformation Programme, Digital Malaysia aspires to transform the nation into a world-class ‘digital economy.’
How then can we be prepared to look into banning or blocking Facebook, perhaps the most transformative digital technology to emerge in the last few years?
We might as well ‘close shop’ on Digital Malaysia, MaGIC, the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) project, the PM’s Genovasi and the dozens of other initiatives and national programmes that the Najib Administration has launched during its tenure.
One is tempted to not take Ahmad Shabery’s statement seriously, but given that it follows a similar one from the highly-influential Dr Mahathir, it paints a picture of increasing pressure from certain hardliners for Malaysia to withdraw itself from the international community just because some politicians still haven’t cottoned on to the idea of freedom of expression.
One can perhaps describe this as seasonal. Every once in a while, somebody in Putrajaya, or an extremist organisation closely aligned to the ruling coalition, realises that the Internet and social media cannot be controlled the same way the Government controls the mainstream media, which leads to calls for social media, blogs and other spheres of the Internet to be brought to heel.
In 2012, Ahmad Shabery’s predecessor Dr Rais Yatim revealed that the Government was considering setting up a media council to regulate social media. A few years before that, Rais’ ministry had also called for tender submissions for Malaysia to introduce an Internet filter similar to China’s Green Dam.
The Malaysian people will have to continue to be vigilant, or we might suddenly find ourselves saddled with repressive legislation such as the amendment to the Evidence Act 1950, the infamous and controversial Section 114A, which automatically presumes guilt in cases of online defamation.
Yeah, bad stuff happens on Facebook. It happens on the rest of the Internet too. Why not just go the whole nine yards and cut off our international gateways?
Ridiculous? Sure, but the fact that Malaysia is considering blocking Facebook, and is gathering public feedback, shows that no notion is too ridiculous for us to contemplate.
In the irony of ironies, Ahmad Shabery’s first move was to elicit such public feedback via his Facebook page. The #facepalm moment is that many are supporting the block … via Facebook, posting their reasons on that page.
The strength of their conviction is pretty much the same as the Malaysian Government’s when it comes to its own national programmes and aspirations, apparently.
Internet censorship: You’ve already won, Dr Mahathir
Net censorship: Do the ends justify the means?
Malaysian Government to form anti-social media council?
The kangkung block: Denial seems to be the best defence
#Stop114A: It’s no longer about the law, it’s about government
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