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MCMC looking to ‘control’ social media at GE13: A worrying trend

Bernama (an official government news channel) yesterday reported that the MCMC is “looking at suitable methods to monitor and control the use of social media in the 13th General Election (GE13)“. Deputy Information Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Maglin Dennis D’Cruz said this was “to ensure that the social media would not be abused by irresponsible quarters to achieve their own political agenda“. Datuk Maglin then quickly goes on to shameless promote the BN by saying that “Therefore, the public, especially the young voters should be wise enough to do their parts in selecting the right government with vast experience in managing the country, so that their future will be secured.”

I’m not going to revert into conspiracy theories here, but this is a pretty scary development. Firstly, it’s not the first time the government seems to be misusing the MCMC, previously it sought to use them to curb the supposedly prevalent Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual (LGBT) culture online. Then back in 2008, we saw the government use an MCMC directive to instruct local ISPs to block Malaysia Today, which was then a popular anti-government blog. All of this could be construed as a indirect intention to censor the internet through the use of government agency that has no mandate nor authority to do it.

What Datuk Maglin is suggesting is a complete block of social media sites during the General Election.The reality is that there is no way to partially block or censor distinct parts of social network sites like Facebook or Twitter, these websites were designed to be one giant application standing on themselves, they weren’t designed to be modularized and cut up into small chunks that could individually be blocked on their own. The best way–the ONLY way to control social media is to block it of in it’s entirety and that is completely unacceptable that a person of Datuk Maglins position make such irresponsible claims.

Pakistan, till today still blocks youtube, denying their nearly 176 million citizens access to Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake (oh the humanity!!).  So when we say Psy is a global phenomenon, we might want to check if the 176 million people in Pakistan know about him. China continues to block Facebook and Twitter, forcing their entire population to use local variants of the social networks whose server resides completely within the great firewall–this makes control far easier than trying to control applications that reside in America. These countries aren’t interested in partially blocking facebook, they’re looking at a complete block of social networks that could threaten the political survival of their masters.

So what exactly is Datuk Maglin talking about when he says we need to ‘monitor’ and ‘control’ social media? When he refers to politicians abusing social networks for their own political agenda–does he also include the Barisan Nasional politicians, and wouldn’t that also include the Prime Ministers twitter account with 1 million ‘supposed’ followers? Would we want to ‘monitor’ and ‘control’ that? Doesn’t he have a hidden bias since one of those politicians using social media for their own political agenda happens to be his boss, and his bosses boss?

It also seems hypocritical for Datuk to talk about political agenda, when he himself is a member of a political party aligned to the ruling coalition. It seems even more suspect when politicians seek out to ‘regulate’ other politicians whose views don’t align with theirs. We’ve seen this throughout history before, when a government looks to censor information it usually results in a self-serving policy not to protect the citizens of the country, but rather their own political survival.

Plus, this could easily be counted as internet censorship, something the government has promised not to do as part of the MSC Bill of Guarantees. Are we a government or a nation that reneges on it’s promise? That we so easily forget promises cast in stone to prolong the political survival of a shaky government? Are we nation so afraid of change that we would sacrifice our freedom of expression and our right to access social networks so that a archaic group of politicians can keep doing what they do?

We cannot stand by and let ourselves be bullied by government agencies with political agendas. ISPs and Telcos should choose to neglect and defy any government directive to censor the internet as it clearly violates the governments promise to both the foreign companies investing in the MSC–and the people of Malaysia.