For better or worse, Malaysia is often at the forefront of digital media industry 'advancement'. 'Cybertroopers' were central to Malaysian public discourse long before 'buzzers' and 'trolls' became popularised in Southeast Asia. Global companies like Cambridge Analytica placed their offices first in Kuala Lumpur. Some surveys show per capita Malaysia is the highest in the world for WhatsApp usage, meaning new practices of WhatsApp campaigning and marketing are now central to any information campaign. At the same time, the Malaysian government's 2016 attempt at a highly problematic 'anti-fake news' law was one of the first of its kind created in the world, and its new 'fake news' law around Covid19 misinformation continues to mean arrests of Malaysian citizens.
In this webinar I ask what these trends mean for Malaysia's digital public sphere, including the fervent adoption of new communication practices. Rather than adopting the common narrative of social media 'weaponisation', I will argue that the challenges of a contemporary 'infodemic' are part of a growing digital media industry and rapidly shifting information society. These trends include new forms of disinformation, misinformation and also a mix of genuine sentiment around trusting various forms of information online. Solutions are therefore not found in a 'securitised' approach such as laws and increased police intervention, but rather through creating and developing a robust, critical and trustworthy digital media landscape.
Ross Tapsell is a senior lecturer and researcher at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, specialising in Southeast Asian media. He is the author of Media Power in Indonesia: Oligarchs, Citizens and the Digital Revolution (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) and co-editor of From Grassroots Activism to Disinformation: Social Media in Southeast Asia (ISEAS Publishing, 2020).
More details on the ANU Malaysia Institute Seminar Series 2021