Ugly, uncultured Malaysians on social media


Chok Suat Ling, New Straits Times

Malaysia is truly Asia, and its people are known to be ever smiling, gentle and polite. We are courteous, refined in speech, and well mannered — berbudi-bahasa dan halus tutur-kata. Indeed, we are all that and more; but for some mysterious reason, everything changes as soon as we get behind the wheel, watch football, or log onto social media.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, despite their many obvious benefits, have also managed to successfully transform many sweet-natured Malaysians into vicious, judgmental monsters. Look no further than the helicopter crash in Sarawak last week which killed six people including Plantation Industries and Commodities deputy minister Datuk Noriah Kasnon.

It was shocking and tragic but it did not stop even more shocking and distasteful posts. Almost as soon as news spread that the helicopter had disappeared off the radar, “news reports” were disseminated over social media that the AS350 Ecureuil helicopter had been found, and its occupants uninjured — oddly, at several different locations around the state. Journalists who cautioned friends and relatives against sharing such unverified news were in turn scolded for being “slow”.

We now know how that entire episode turned out. The mischievous sharing of false news by those with obviously too much time on their hands only served to confuse and distress already distraught relatives and friends of those on board the ill-fated flight. Subsequent inappropriate posts and comments about them, as well as other politicians, only further added salt to the wound.

These are the ugliest of Malaysians, palpably worse than those who donate their household garbage to charity homes, pile their plate high during open house buffets, and mat rempit. It was the same when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared two years ago. Stories were fabricated — plane landing safely in various locales around the globe — to other implausible scenarios, and then sent out with a swift click via social media.

During the devastating floods in Kelantan in 2014, malicious posts were spread of the purported collapse of a school with bodies of hundreds submerged in floodwaters. These propagators of mischief must be hauled up and severely punished as they have helped create an environment of cynicism, where nothing is to be believed until proven otherwise. Not many believed the news about school closure during the hazy months, for example, until they were shared by the mainstream media’s online sites. This can be dangerous especially in times of disaster or strife when it’s crucial for the news to reach the people speedily.

Uncivilised and uncultured Malaysians do not just stop at posting fake news, they taunt, provoke and offend, sometimes in the name of giving the recipient unsolicited “advice”. Accomplished Malaysian singer Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, or Yuna as she is popularly known, has made great strides in the global music scene and was just recently announced as one of five international singers to perform the 2016 Olympics promotional tune, “The Fire”.

However, the only thing a young fan could see was her “inappropriate attire”. The girl mocked a photo of the turbaned Yuna on Instagram, which the singer laudably responded to with restraint and class. Many others have been on the receiving end of vulgarity and scorn, when all they did was help the country earn medals in gymnastics, or pose in nude tights in front of tourist attractions abroad.

The perception these days is that it is acceptable to utter the rudest, most abusive and obscene words of “guidance” as long as the post ends with: “This also serves as a reminder to myself”. When confronted by unverified posts, social media users must not give those intent on mischief further credence and notoriety by clicking on the “share” button. By spreading it further, you are as liable as they are.

At the same time, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission must act more urgently and decisively against those who misuse social media. After all, Section 233 of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Act 1998, is rather all-encompassing and does not just cover online media portals. It provides for a maximum jail term of one year or a fine not exceeding RM50,000 and or both, against those who “post any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in nature with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”. This, without a doubt, covers all the ugly Malaysians above.