Malaysia’s government ban requests for posts and accounts on Meta, TikTok jump six times in 2023

Malaysia's Government made more requests  than any other government in Southeast Asia
to restrict content on TikTok and Meta. (Image: Getty Images)
Malaysia’s Government made more requests than any other government in Southeast Asia
to restrict content on TikTok and Meta. (Image: Getty Images)

Content Restrictions Request to Meta and TikTok by Malaysia

During the initial half of 2023, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, and China’s TikTok implemented unprecedented restrictions on social media content and accounts in Malaysia, as revealed by data released by the platforms. This surge in content removal aligns with an upswing in governmental requests to eliminate specific online materials.

The administration of Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, which assumed power in November 2022 on a reform-oriented agenda, faces accusations of deviating from its commitment to safeguarding freedom of speech. This criticism has intensified in recent months due to heightened scrutiny of online content.

The government refutes allegations of suppressing online dissent, asserting its intent to counter provocative posts related to race, religion, and royalty. Meta’s Transparency Report for the first half of 2023 discloses that approximately 3,100 pages and posts on Facebook and Instagram were restricted in Malaysia due to reported violations of local laws. This figure is six times higher than the preceding six-month period and represents the highest since Meta commenced reporting content restrictions in the country in 2017.

Malaysia’s communications regulator countered accusations, emphasizing that its efforts to remove social media content aimed to shield users from the escalating prevalence of online harms rather than stifling diverse viewpoints. Meta reported that, between July 2022 and June 2023, it restricted access to over 3,500 items in response to requests from Malaysia’s communications regulator and other government agencies. The content encompassed critiques of the government and posts violating laws on illegal gambling, hate speech, divisive content, bullying, and financial scams.

In a separate report, TikTok acknowledged receiving 340 requests from the Malaysian government to remove or restrict content in the first half of 2023, impacting 890 posts and accounts. TikTok complied by removing or restricting 815 of these items, marking the highest in a six-month period since it began reporting Malaysian requests in 2019—a threefold increase from the second half of 2022.

Malaysia emerged as the Southeast Asian government with the highest number of requests for content restrictions on TikTok. Notably, Meta did not disclose the total number of government requests it received for content restrictions.

Rising Concerns and Challenges in the Online Landscape

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission reported a substantial 24-fold increase in harmful content on social media platforms in 2023 compared to the previous year. This surge included scams, illegal sales, gambling, fake news, and hate speech. However, the commission did not provide a detailed breakdown of the alleged harmful content on each platform.

Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil dismissed allegations of orchestrating the removal of critical posts about him on social media, stating that the communications regulator typically acts upon complaints from ordinary users. Malaysia’s sensitivities to issues of race, religion, and monarchy are reflected in laws prohibiting seditious remarks or insults against its monarchy.

Fahmi criticized TikTok in October, accusing the platform of inadequately addressing defamatory or misleading content and failing to comply with local laws. TikTok pledged to take proactive measures to address these concerns.

The government also contemplated legal action against Meta for not addressing “undesirable” content but abandoned the plan following discussions with the company.

Free speech advocacy group Article 19 condemned the removal of critical government posts and expressed apprehension about the increased requests to restrict content. The group warned that such actions could stifle legitimate free speech and expression, emphasizing that restricting expression solely based on critical views of social issues, public figures, or government institutions is impermissible. Nalini Elumalai, the senior Malaysia program officer at Article 19, emphasized these concerns.

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Source(s): Hindustan Times

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