Bebas: Irrational curbs on social media will do more harm

Azrul-Mohd-Khalib_social-mediaPETALING JAYA: Civil rights group Bebas has cautioned that any move to impose irrational restrictions on freedom of expression over social media in Malaysia will only amplify uncertainties and tensions among users, rather than eradicate the trend of illegal and offensive content being posted online.

Its spokesperson Azrul Mohd Khalib said Malaysia did not need a law to curb online speech, as was recently implemented in Germany, as it would defeat the true meaning of a democratic country.

“Freedom of speech should be protected and applied by every Malaysian,” he said. “It cannot simply be handed over to the rulers and politicians (to control).”

He said while a mature democracy required people to obey the law, it also allowed people to speak freely as part of society’s development process.

Azrul was commenting on a recent directive by the German government for all social media companies operating there to delete illegal, racist and slanderous comments and postings, or risk being penalised.

It was reported that a new law passed by Germany on June 30 will require firms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube to remove any content deemed illegal in the country within 24 hours of it being posted on their platform. Those who fail to adhere to the rule would be fined up to US$57 million (RM245 million).

The New York Times said the new law was an effort to put a halt to the spread of hate speech over social media.

Azrul said such a “restrictive and intrusive” measure under German legislation should be viewed as drastic and extraordinary.

“It should not be considered a new norm and such measures will definitely restrict freedom of expression if it was applied here in Malaysia,” he told FMT.

He also questioned whether social media companies had the qualification and credibility to determine and regulate what could be considered as hate speech and illegal content, so it could be weeded out.

“This new law will breed more issues and uncertainties. Who will decide what is illegal or offensive?” he said.

However, Azrul also said hate speech should not be considered as part of freedom of expression which serves a higher purpose in helping to develop a mature society.

Meanwhile, MCA’s Gan Ping Sieu said all social media users and organisations ought to assume a similar editorial role and responsibility as that played by traditional media publishers.

“Social media and digital platform providers are essentially assuming the role of traditional print media and publishing houses in the dissemination of information,” he said.

“Hence, every individual or organisation providing content or write-ups in social media, including Facebook and Twitter, have the duty and responsibility of an editor just like in traditional media,” he added.

He however said that regulatory control as a means to suppress legitimate dissemination of information and opinions should be avoided.