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Fake news and hate speech an urgent challenge as they can not only destroy Pakatan Harapan Government but Malaysia’s hopes to become a top world-class nation

The topic tonight “Democracy in a Polarised Age” is most relevant.

For over a decade, democracy in the world is in retreat, despite isolated reverses as witnessed in Malaysia last year and recently in the presidential elections in Indonesia.

In Malaysia, the hopes of Malaysians for the first peaceful and democratic transition of power in six decades to reset nation-building policies to build a New Malaysia have turned sour and there is an urgent need for the realisation of the promises and pledges of the Pakatan Harapan Manifesto in the 14th General Election.

We are in a very polarised age, not only in Malaysia but worldwide and the problem has taken a new shape in the era of the Internet, celebrating its 30th anniversary.

A few days ago, the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Beners-Lee announced a global plan to save the web.

As he said: “I had hoped that 30 years from its creation, we would be using the web foremost for the purpose of serving humanity.

“However, the reality is much more complex. Communities are being ripped apart as prejudice, hate and disinformation are peddled online.

“We’re at a tipping point. How we respond to this abuse will determine whether the web lives up to its potential as a global force for good or leads us into a digital dystopia.”

In the recent Indonesian presidential election, fake news and hate speech became a serious challenge, and they even sparked riots in the post-Presidential election period causing deaths and hundreds of people injured.

Both in the 2014 and 2019 Indonesian Presidential elections, the presidential candidate Jokowi (Joko Widodo) was accused by fake news and hate speech as a Chinese and a communist.

Hoax stories against Jokowi include the claim that the Islamic call to prayer will be prohibited and that his vice president will be replaced by Ahok, (Basuki Tjahaja Purnama), the former Jakarta governor who was convicted and imprisoned for blasphemy.

These sound familiar to us in Malaysia, not only in the run-up to the 14th General Election last year, but in the current Malaysian situation, where fake news and hate speech have created a feverish atmosphere where both the Malay and the non-Malay communities, for completely contradictory reasons, are made to feel that their rights, position and future are facing an unprecedented threat – which is a clear impossibility as who is threatening who?

I myself had been falsely accused by fake news and hate speech, even now, of being a communist, anti-Malay and anti-Muslim. I cannot be accused of being a Chinese, but hoax stories before and after the 14th General Election continue to be circulated that I am not a local-born Malaysian, but had come from China when I as 16 years old.

Fake news and hate speech are particularly incendiary and combustible in Malaysia because of the country’s diversity of races, languages, religions and cultures – making them doubly toxic, explosive and destructive.

Malaysia must address this threat posed to our democracy by polarisation aggravated by the digital age, and this can only be achieved by Malaysians developing a high level of media literacy, with the critical thinking to detect lies, half-truths and falsehoods.

This must be the top priority of the Pakatan Harapan government as fake news and hate speech can not only destroy the Pakatan Harapan government, but the hopes of Malaysians for the country to be a top world-class nation.

It is pertinent to note that with the toxic nature of lies, fake news and hate speech in the Internet age, and their mutation into more toxic forms on the ubiquitous social media, the Doomsday Clock 2019 is positioned at two minutes to midnight – closest it’s been to midnight since 1953 during the Cold War – because fake news has been recognised as a third factor after nuclear risk and climate change which posed an existential threat to humanity.