More than a decade ago, then-prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad declared during the height of the Multimedia Super Corridor that Malaysia would never censor the Internet.
And this remained gospel for a long time even after his resignation, with the government not wanting to offend the country’s longest serving prime minister by going against his promise.
But slowly, things have been taking a turn for the worse. More laws have been put in place to curb freedom of speech and expression, and this has extended online.
And yesterday at Malaysia Social Media Week 2015, even the the 22-year-serving prime minister reneged on his promise that the Internet would never be censored in Malaysia.
“When I was the prime minister, an expert told me I should never censor the Internet. But now I’ve changed my mind,” he was reported to have said.
Why the sudden change of mind? Well, it seems that the regulation of the Internet, particularly social media, would ensure that no sensitivities are touched on that would offend people.
By being able to control and regulate the Internet through censorship then, they are able to control those who abuse it and make sure that it is only used for a “good purpose”.
You see, the Internet has given the ordinary person a lot of power. It gives a voice to them to spread their opinions, thoughts and beliefs with almost no limits.
And with the argument that this power can be abused, Dr Mahathir is saying that we need to curb this power because the people just can’t handle it.
Is it not obvious that this is actually a step backwards in the wrong direction? When more power comes the way of the people, it only forces them to move forward.
And by moving forward, it means maturing and developing more responsibility in order to handle that power. It doesn’t mean halting it and not giving it a chance at all.
The problem I have with this is that the argument is always because there are people who abuse the Internet by spreading hate speech and racist messages that cause division.
Sure, we have the idiots like Alvin Tan and the like who seem to think that they can say anything they want without regard for its effects just because they feel they have a right to.
But you know what? Even though they are idiots, they really do have a right to say whatever they want. And we, the public, have the right to disagree with whatever they say.
Responsibility comes in many forms and it doesn’t just lie on the party that produces and puts out the content. It also lies on the party that consumes the content.
One of the beauties of the Internet is that although it empowers people by giving them a voice, it can also cruelly punish people via obscurity.
The consumers have the power to ignore whatever content they feel is offensive, negative and derogatory, thus throwing it into the black hole of the Internet.
So if people don’t like what obnoxious people like Alvin Tan say, or racist rants by Ridhuan Tee, Datuk Ibrahim Ali or Abdul Rani Kulup, they just need to ignore it.
It is what’s known as societal censorship, and it puts control and regulation of the Internet in the hands of the people rather than the government in power.
But for this to happen, there needs to be time for society to mature and develop. And this is a process that needs to happen naturally without being curbed.
And that is why I strongly believe that the systematic censorship of the Internet with the intention of protecting society is really more detrimental to society.