Government will not tolerate lies or hatred being spread via cyberspace, says Najib

KUALA LUMPUR - While the Government is committed towards free exchange of views online to develop knowledge and democracy, it will not allow the Internet to become a medium to stoke racial and religious tension or violence, says Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said the Internet had at times been abused by people to spread half-truths and outright lies which resulted in a lot of damage, especially in multi-religious and multi-cultural Malaysia.

"Internet stories can go viral and take a life of their own," he said at the opening of an international forum, held on the sidelines of the Umno general assembly.

"Therefore, people have a responsibility to think about the content they share.

"In the heat of the moment, the public also needs to be more discerning and understand that allegations on the Internet should not be accepted as the absolute truth," he said. "Claims need to be questioned and evidence assessed."

Najib enlightened the audience of foreign participants on how damaging "misinformation" on the Internet could be by sharing Barisan Nasional's experience in the last general election.

He said the ruling coalition was accused of orchestrating blackouts in polling stations to fix the ballot boxes and also defamed by saying it flew in 40,000 foreigners to vote.

"These claims were all proven to be baseless lies, but not before they had been swallowed hook, line and sinker by many - doing real damage to our reputation," Najib said.

The Prime Minister said with the information revolution, the efforts of governments to build, develop and sustain their countries would be under the "watchful eye" of the people.

He said those who had Internet access could hold their governments to greater account.

"If they are unhappy with the state of their governments, they can and will tell the world about it, in real time, with pictures, videos and hashtags to help get their message across.

"In the past, politicians have been accused of only fixing the roads when there's an election coming up.

"Today, we are taken to task by our constituents who live-tweet from traffic jams. It is more critical.

"But it also offers us a chance to see public opinion without the filter of the ballot box - and to respond in real-time ourselves," he said.

Najib said a government also needed to engage with its people so that it can always keep its finger on the pulse of the nation, adding that the Internet provided many opportunities to be constantly connected with society.

Malaysia, he said, attempted to open up policy-making to the public, adding that in formulating the Budget, he had asked the public for input and suggestions via social media.

International diplomacy was also becoming a public affair with the Internet being used to leak previously classified documents such as diplomatic cables.

"For the global community to extract the most value from this remarkable technology, we must continue to learn from each others' experience and collaborate in the service of the greater good," said Najib.