The Malaysian government is mulling plans to clamp down on the epidemic of fake news. Malaysian national daily Berita Harian has reported that administrators of WhatsApp groups could face legal action if they spread false information — especially those that may “jeopardise national security”.

The perpetuators would face punishment under the existing law under the  Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, according Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Johari Gilani.

Under this act, punishable offences include spreading false news, defamation, incitement, fraud and disclosure of communications prohibited under the Official Secrets Act, according to a report by Channel NewsAsia.

The administrator would be called in for questioning. If they are found guilty of intentionally spreading false information, they would be charged.

Johari urged WhatsApp admins to “act as gatekeepers to filter news” before sharing on WhatsApp or social media.

Malaysian Consumers Association, Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman told Berita Harian that this new rule should be implemented immediately as fake news would not only cause disruption to the community, but also threaten national security.

However, he also said that sanctions should not be too heavy and that first-time offenders could be let off with a warning. Rahman also added that other approaches could be taken to monitor the spread of false information, including the Sedition Act 1948, Defamation Act 1957 and the Computer Crimes Act 1957 and the Penal Code.

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Malaysia’s neighbour Singapore is also considering plans to curb the spread of fake news. Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam told parliament in April that government is reviewing measures to address fake news.

Other countries are targeting the social networks themselves to stem the flow of false information. In Germany, the government has put forth a draft law that could see social networks get fined up to €50 million (US$54.3 million) for failing to remove fake news or hate speech.

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