It’s another coronavirus story (not again? #ihatecilisos) but, this time around, it involves those unverified news you might have been sharing online. At the time of writing, the Health Minister, Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad said that there have been SO MANY fake news posted online.
“We will publish a list of all the fake news, and God willing, we will do so soonest, because there are simply too much.” – Dzulkefly to Malay Mail.
And it’s so alarming that SCMP quoted, “If the new Coronavirus doesn’t get you in Malaysia, fake, racist news about it might.” The Health Ministry has been working together with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to combat these fake news by listing them out and you can check them out here and here.
Besides that, the MCMC together with the police have been working together to arrest those who are responsible for posting these fake news online. And in the most recent case, an award-winning journalist, Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias, was reportedly charged for the statements she made on her Facebook about the novel Coronavirus (2019 n-Cov).
However, she was not the only person who was arrested for posting fake news online. At the time of writing, 12 people throughout Malaysia have been detained for posting fake news while 36 cases of fake news are currently being investigated by the MCMC and police.
And because fake news related to coronavirus are investigated by these two authorities, they are also reportedly being investigated under two provisions:
Waitamin, why are there two separate provisions to investigate fake news on Coronavirus? And with all these arrests going on, does that mean ALL of us can be charged for spreading fake news on Facebook or WhatsApp?
We got in touch with our lawyer friend, Fahri Azzat, who told us that…
Yes, your parents, aunts, uncles, neighbours and even you CAN be charged for spreading fake news…
…under the Communication and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1988.
“Yes. Whenever you use Whatsapp, or other social media applications, know that you are going to be subject to CMA98.” – Fahri to CILISOS.
Just in case you’re new to this act, the CMA provides a legal mandate to defend a free and open internet. According to the Stanford Law School, Malaysia is apparently the only country where a free and open internet is governed by a law.
And Section 233 of CMA doesn’t explicitly talk about fake news. As it turns out, the section mainly talks about the improper use of network facilities or network service in general.
“Section 233(1)(a) CMA98 is the offence of improperly using a network facility/service to send any comment, request, suggestion or communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.” – Fahri.
He also pointed out that this provision can only be used if the offender uses a device (Facebook, WhatsApp, etc) to communicate those statements. And this provision is commonly used to charge and prosecute those who make false statements on Facebook and WhatsApp.
And we can’t help but to wonder if this also applies to a person who shares false information to only one person via WhatsApp.
“Potentially. The quantity does not matter in so far as the commission of the offence is concerned. That fact is relevant to mitigating of the offender’s sentence (after his conviction).” – Fahri.
For instance, in 2019, nine Malaysians were arrested for making offensive remarks on social media that can cause racial tension. Two of them were charged for allegedly making offensive posts on the Prophet on Facebook and Twitter under Section 233 of CMA.
Those who are charged for violating Section 233 of CMA can be fined up to RM50,000 or jailed up to a year or both with an additional of RM1,000 fine per day that the offending post stays up. But, back in 2016, the MCMC planned to amend CMA and we wrote an article about what would happen if the CMA is amended.
One of the points we highlighted was how the amendment would increase the fine up to RM500,000 (yes, with an extra zero) and RM100,000 additional fine per day that the offending post stays up. At the time of writing, the Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said that his ministry has completed the proposed amendments to Section 233 of CMA.
Posting fake news about coronavirus is considered as bad as… TERRORISM!?
“Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report—
(b) with intent to cause, or which his likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public where by any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”
And that’s because, according to Fahri, the fake news on coronavirus may not even have been posted with the intention to annoy, abuse or threaten people (which is stated in CMA). As a matter of fact…
“The fake news about the spread of corona virus is more an act of terrorism than one that annoys, abuses, threaten or harasses another person.” – Fahri.
It may have started with messages like the claim that mandarin oranges that caused coronavirus (which isn’t true although mandarin oranges can cause sore throat) but the spreading of fake news have escalated to a point where, according to Tommy, people were just being racist towards Chinese nationals in Malaysia.
Although we’ve mentioned in the intro that the cases of fake news on coronavirus were being investigated under both provisions, Fahri told us that a person who posts a fake news on coronavirus CANNOT be charged under both provisions at the same time. In fact, Tommy said that those who are involved in posting fake news would be charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code.
Those who are charged under this section can be jailed of up to two years or fine or both.
Jangan sebarkan atau berkongsi berita palsu.
Anda boleh didakwa mengikut Seksyen 505 (b) Kanun Keseksaan, yang membawa hukuman dipenjara maksimum dua tahun atau denda atau kedua-duanya jika didapati bersalah.
Kenyataan rasmi akan dikeluarkan KKM dari semasa ke semasa. pic.twitter.com/qCoctzHQ4q
— KKMPutrajaya (@KKMPutrajaya) January 27, 2020
And Tommy has the right to say this because, according to Fahri, the AG is the only person in Malaysia that can initiate, suspend or withdraw a prosecution against anyone in Malaysia. In other words, the AG has the right to charge a person of posting fake news (or any other offences) in court.
But how will the MCMC or police know who to investigate anyway considering the number of people posting and sharing these news online?? Well, that pretty much relies on you because…
You can report any fake news to the MCMC
If you ever receive or see any fake news on coronavirus, you can always lodge a report to the MCMC. And that’s because, the MCMC can only take action against those who post or spread fake news online if the public lodges complaint to the MCMC.
According to MCMC’s website, there are several ways to lodge a report:
- You can lodge a complaint directly to the content owner or moderator. However, if you can’t find any of them, you can use the ‘report abuse’ service provided by the website.
- You can lodge a complaint on http://aduan.skmm.gov.my/.
- You’ll be given a receipt for your reference and will receive a reply to your complaint within 15 days from the date of complaint.
- You can also lodge a report to other relevant authorities such as the police.
And, yes, if you’re a WhatsApp group chat admin, it’s very likely that you’ll be held responsible as well. In 2017, the MCMC has reportedly stated that WhatsApp group admins would be held responsible if they share or allow their members to share fake news in their group chats. This is seen as a good approach to prevent fake news from spreading around because 84% of Malaysians receive fake or unverified news from WhatsApp.
Despite that, Fahri told us that WhatsApp group admins would only be charged if the admin supported, helped or lent any assistance to the sharer. He also questioned if putting a disclaimer before sharing a news online would be able to prevent people from being investigated and charged for spreading fake news online. But this might be why it is best to verify the source of the news before sharing them. In fact…
“The public is advised to be careful when sharing unverified message. In addition, we encourage the public to play their role to remind and reprimand each other not to share fake news.” – MCMC to CILISOS, in 2019.
We tried getting in touch with the MCMC to get their comments on the spreading of fake news on coronavirus but we’re still waiting a reply from them.
In the context of the coronavirus outbreak, you can always verify any news you receive online on sebenarnya.my, the MCMC’s website which has been actively debunking fake news on coronavirus and other issues as well.
If you like stories like this, wanna contribute to stories like this or want us to verify if any message you receive online is real or fake, you can join the Real Fake News Malaysia Facebook group.