Curbing fake news spread: A fight we must wage as one united nation

|     Muhammad Hadi bin Muhammad Melayong, Senior Special Duties Officer, Secretariat Office, MIB Supreme Council     |

THE author, through this article, is pleased to send a congratulatory message to the Information Department, Prime Minister’s Office for successfully organising media seminars in collaboration with the Brunei Library Association entitled ‘Seminar on the Spread of News’ on June 12, 2018.

In the early days of the Internet before the existence of social media, we faced Internet hoaxes such as ‘Chai n Email,’ ‘Nigerian Prince Scam’ and ‘Catfishing.’ Today we face a new enemy, an issue that affects everyone nation wide. Falsified news is a national issue we frequently face. We are aware that we do not have complete control of information shared in the cloud.

Though the Internet is a source of useful information and provides access to digital communication platforms, it’s not entirely safe from propaganda, gossip, defamation and fraudulent facts. This is another challenge in the technological revolution era around the world.

The act of falsifying news is not new, however, with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, it has got easier for these unwanted news to go viral. Fake news or hoaxes spread through social media are disseminated with a simple agenda: to create havoc and destabilise, to wreak and humiliate, degrade and slander the dignity or reputation of some parties – some with the intention of raising unwanted biased awareness in the public mind.

Internet hoaxes and false news are possibly one of the most challenging issues to overcome; with the availability of Internet access through WiFi or 4G via smartphones, which is supposed to be a convenience, could also be used to spread malicious information. The initiative taken by the seminar organisers to tackle the issue is highly appreciated and praised.

A section of the participants at the seminar
The author delivers his paperwork at the seminar

This is because the issue of spreading false news is a problem faced globally following the revolution of communication technology with the emergence of new forms of rapidly growing media. This phenomenon will continue to be the main challenge for us in terms of regulating and enforcing laws regarding the dissemination of information. In analogy, as long as the world has the Internet, this issue will persist and could be a greater obstacle in the future.

All members of the Brunei community need to work together to create awareness and educate themselves to face this issue head on. This was conveyed by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in conjunction with the official opening of the First Meeting from Season 13th Meeting of State Assembly 2017:

“Namun dalam keghairahan memanfaatkan teknologi canggih ini, kita juga dikehendaki supaya jangan lalai daripada anasir-anasir yang tidak bertanggungjawab, yang menggunakan teknologi untuk tujuan-tujuan keburukan, termasuk penggunaan media sosial untuk menyebarkan berita-berita palsu dan fitnah. Semua ini boleh mengundang kepada bencana.”

His Majesty has reminded his subjects to be wiser and cautious online, to behave appropriately and act responsibly with every action made online. Bruneians are advised to, where possible, allow the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) philosophy be their “personal firewall” to maintain the societal harmony, as stated in His Majesty’s titah in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the Brunei Darussalam National Day in 2014:

“Malahan pada hemat beta MIB adalah merupakan satu-satunya pendinding atau ‘Firewall’ yang kukuh lagi berkesan untuk menangani pelbagai isu dan cabaran globalisasi. Globalisasi dalam realitinya telah memacu perubahan paling cepat. Penggunaan internet dan pelbagai jenis media sosial pula telah menjadikan penyebaran informasi tiada lagi bersempadan. Maklumat-maklumat sudah dapat disalurkan dengan begitu mudah kepada sesiapa sahaja.

“Ini semestinya kita perlu bijak dan berhati-hati untuk memperolehi manfaatnya. Sebaliknya jika cuai atau salah guna maka kesan buruknya bukan sahaja pada diri individu malahan juga kepada negara.”

Participants attending the half-day seminar included media practitioners, officials and public relations practitioners, and librarians.

A total of four papers were presented

– Addressing Falsified News or Information Through Three Working Strategy by Information Department.

– Falsified News Speeches Offences by Royal Brunei Police Force.

– Addressing the Spread of the Falsified News from the Malay Islamic Monarchy Presence by the Office of the Secretariat of the MIB Supreme Council.

– Media Policy and Falsified News Monitoring, Media and Cabinet Division by Prime Minister’s Office.

Representatives from the Royal Brunei Police Force presented several existing laws used in dealing with the spread of false news under the Legislative Acts on False News, among which includes Section 148 of the Public Order Act 34. Under this Act, any person who either speaks or writes or uses any means of disseminating false reports or making false statements that may cause disruptions in public security can be imprisoned for three years and fined BND3,000.

Among the other Acts is Division 24 of the Sedition Act Section 4 (1), which states that any person conducting or attempting to commit, or abet to commit sedition using words which are seditious; reproduce any sedition; as well as bring in any seditious news, unless he does not suspect that he is seditious, is considered to be an offence.

The author sees the issue of disseminating false news from the MIB perspective, as His Majesty had conveyed that the spread of false news is an act of au contraire towards the Bruneian values; an act that does not proudly define Bruneians as Malay, and definitely does not comply with Islamic religious teachings, where deceit, lies and slandering are considered sinful acts.

The author likes to remind social media users to be thorough and smart before spreading any news, and to perform due diligence and confirm the source of the news before sharing them. One may have a good intention to spread awareness by forwarding news received on WhatsApp, but if no legitimate source can be found, it is best to delete the message and not mislead the public by spreading it.

In order to curb the spread of false news, Islam also emphasises the concept of tabayyun, which is to check the authenticity of any information or news that are disseminated first before sharing them. To apply this in terms of media usage, Islam teaches us how to receive news, as mentioned in al-Quran and As-Sunnah as follows through the word of Allah the Almighty in Surah Al-Hujurat verse 6: “O you who believe! If a wicked person comes to you to bring news, then investigate the truth, so that you will not harm a people with unnecessary things – because of your ignorance – to make you regret what you did.”

False news is also mentioned in Surah An-Nur verse 12 and verse 13. For example, in verse 12 the following is said: “In the meantime when you heard the allegations, the believers – men and women, put their minds to themselves and said: ‘This is a clear lie!’”

And in Surah An-Nur verse 16: “And when you hear it, you say, ‘It is not right for us to say this! Glory be to You, this is a great lie.’”

It is common sense to check the validity of a piece of news by citing the source. At the same time, we could also enforce that common sense by reviewing what Islam has taught us on dealing with the spread of false news from the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

We must be diligent when we decide to share news we receive. It is cited in Al-Quran that defamation (fitnah) is worse than murder; this is mentioned in Surah Al-Baqarah verse 191 in the following interpretation: “And the defamation is greater than the danger of murder.”

The public should prudently use digital platforms so that the information sent is legit and correct and does not negatively affect the society and the country. Our society must be aware that falsified news leaves a bad impression as it invites enmity. Therefore spreading falsified news must be avoided as it can cause defamation and incite hatred against certain groups.

The people should understand that open-ended social media raises unreliable online journalists who may disseminate bad information or news. They need to be aware that spreading false information is an offence that can result in them being prosecuted in court and sentenced to imprisonment, and the act is sinful.

As citizens of Brunei, we need to exercise trust and exert responsibility more thoroughly by practicing and appreciating MIB and treating it as a backbone that molds and shapes life on the basis of unity and harmony. In this technological revolution era, it is undeniable that modern life today is constantly faced with endless challenges and obstacles when it comes to maintaining a balance between tradition, peace and prosperity.

Our first order should be to embrace the light side of the Internet, and resist the force of the dark. The Internet provides almost limitless and easy access to every piece of news, fact and articles, but we must not forget to look deeper at the contents and verify the source, and not blindly share falsified news with the public.

This task we cannot undertake alone. This is a joint effort between the Royal Brunei Police Force, MIB Supreme Council and Information Department; only by doing so we can give Brunei a new hope to face this challenge, particularly by empowering those agencies that control and oversee the media to strike back against news falsifiers and Internet hoaxers from both within and outside Brunei for the overall harmony of nations.