The Malaysian government is seeking help from Internet companies, namely Google, Twitter, and Facebook, to stem the tide of “false content” online, which they feel can harm public safety. The information in question isn’t “click bait” articles or urban legends, but claims that the prime minister transferred $700 million to his own accounts from state funds.
The claims first surfaced online, although they haven’t been verified by news sources yet. It seems that around $700 million was transferred to the prime minster’s accounts, which his government maintains are donations, and not money that was taken from state funds. The fund in question 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which is under investigation for graft and financial mismanagement.
The government maintains that censoring the Internet is in the interest of public safety, presumably to keep people from getting up in arms over what could, admittedly, be false accusations. But there are a lot of people who disagree. Social media is one of the main ways people in Malaysia are able to express their political opinions, and restricting that seems to be a rather anti-democratic move. Pro-democracy group Bersih, which is planning a protest rally, maintains that the actions are censorship intended to hush up political dissent.
And indeed, the government maintains that even the Internet is not a lawless space, and that breaking the law online can still result in punishment. But what laws are being broken? It’s true that people across the globe can, and do, use the Internet for nefarious purposes, and those people should face legal action even if they’re acting digitally. But this certainly sounds different. While harassing people online or stealing their personal data should be illegal and punishable, what the Malaysian government seems to be doing is trying to use the law to clamp down on political dissent and make a controversy go away. It’s unlikely that it will work, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.