How not to get arrested for sharing fake news

Erna Mahyuni
Erna Mahyuni

JANUARY 29 —  There are currently many angry Malaysian men on Twitter who are apparently itching to see the inside of a jail cell.

It's my takeaway from the insistence of these men that they have the right to spread misinformation and spout racist as well as xenophobic sentiments.

While I did not attempt to engage with these very annoying individuals, I annoyed them enough that they tweeted their hopes I would fall victim to the virus.

Sadly their wish is unlikely to come true as the statistics are on my side; the leading cause of death for Malaysians 40 and under happens to be road accidents and for the 40 and older, heart disease.

My chances for getting sick with this newly discovered coronavirus are incredibly low.

Yet the vitriol online makes it seem as though the government is personally delivering infected Wuhan citizens to the doorstep of all right-thinking Malaysians.

Malaysians got into a frothing panic online upon hearing that infected individuals were transferred from Johor Baru to Sungai Buloh.

I saw people from Sungai Buloh being hysterical and it was rather amusing, cruel as that might sound.

Did these people not know that Sungai Buloh Hospital is also where our Centre for Infectious Diseases has been for the past few years?

Are they now going to do what Hong Kong residents did, which was to protest and then set a proposed quarantine site on fire?

Fortunately Malaysians are more likely to set the internet on fire rather than buildings but I guess it shows just how ignorant some people are about public facilities that are in their own backyard.

Thanks to having to deal with SARS, MERS and the Nipah virus, we are curiously positioned to deal with pandemics more efficiently than even neighbouring Singapore.

National pride aside, it is disturbing to see how little faith we have in our government to deal with a public health crisis.

To be fair, we are rather terrible at dealing with natural disasters such as floods and landslides but those are far different things from this virus situation.

While I still think no one should get arrested for calling our politicians names, it is time that we improve our national communications.

Our Health Ministry tried its best to get the word out there and fight off all the bad assumptions and misinformation, but it lies with our Communications Ministry to do better at assuaging the fears of our citizens.

The Opposition has also galvanised its support base online, not to help with the situation, but attempt to create more fear and panic just for political mileage.

People who have been spreading fake news and stirring panic online need to be dealt with ― publicly named, shamed and fined enough that they will maybe learn to verify their sources next time.

I know it is far too easy to share social media posts but if you are the kind who gets anxious or are prone to being terrible at fact-checking, my only advice is to just cut the cord.

Get off social media if you cannot use it responsibly and that is the surest way I won't see you in tomorrow's headlines for getting fined by the MCMC.

Social media is free, but the freedom to speak does not mean freedom from consequences when you're being stupid.

Think of this as my angpao to all of you despairing at older relatives who keep forwarding you fake news: just tell them they could be arrested (which is technically true) and you just might see your WhatsApp group be filled with nothing but inspirational quotes as well as baby pictures in no time.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles UTM issues directive to postpone all programmes to China following coronavirus outbreak Coronavirus: ECRL staff celebrating CNY in China advised not to return until situation is under control Coronavirus: Three more positive cases in Malaysia, bringing total to seven