KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 – Government health officials have “taken action” against 14 social media posts for Covid-19 misinformation that went viral during the course of the pandemic.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, in a written parliamentary reply Wednesday, said actions were taken after taking into account the impact of the viral posts on social media that could affect the ministry’s credibility.
“Out of the total, three reports were made and are still under investigation by the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC),” Khairy said in response to Johor Bahru MP Akmal Nasrullah Mohd Nasir’s question on efforts to curb the spread of false news, especially on Covid booster shots.
On October 8 last year, Khairy, in a tweet, ordered the MOH to lodge a police report and a complaint to the MCMC for fake news against Twitter user @khalids for posting a video that listed school teachers who had allegedly died due to Covid-19 vaccines.
The Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia’s analysis of the Sebenarnya.my online government fact-checker during the early phase of the pandemic found that “authority action” and “community spread” comprised 70 per cent, or 254 of 363 coronavirus-related false claims between January and June, 2020.
False claims that ISIS Malaysia coded as “authority action” included a claim that Terengganu’s police chief had warned about the implementation of an Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) in Dungun.
False claims coded by the think tank as “community spread” refers to instances of inaccurate claims of positive Covid-19 cases in certain areas like banks, supermarkets, or shopping centres.
Lead researcher Harris Zainul, in a policy brief, noted that legal provisions used for fake news such as Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 and Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, make no reference to the creation of false information.
Section 233 of the CMA makes the “improper use of network facilities” an offence, while the Penal Code criminalises “statements conducive to public mischief”, Harris said.
The Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 introduced during the Perikatan Nasional administration under then-prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was also briefly in effect to tackle fake news.
Under the emergency law, creators and sharers of fake news could be punished with a fine up to RM100,000 or imprisonment not exceeding three years, or to both, if found guilty
In 2021, the government spent RM13.25 million on educational and promotional materials on healthy living, Covid-19 vaccine safety and standard operating procedures (SOPS) through multiple platforms and media channels, Khairy said.