KUALA LUMPUR: An organisation fighting for freedom of expression has taken Malaysia’s internet authority to task over its recent “advisory” to administrators of social media groups, saying it was an attempt at getting users to act as censors for the government.
The Malaysian chapter of rights group Article 19, named after Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) should retract the advisory immediately.
It also wants MCMC to tell social media users that they cannot be held responsible for content created by third parties.
The NGO said in a statement that it considered the MCMC advisory as “seeking to deliver an implicit threat to social media users”.
“The MCMC advisory is a clear reminder to internet users that they are expected to enforce Malaysia’s tough restrictions on freedom of expression online through private censorship,” Article 19 said.
The advisory, released on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, targets “administrators” of group pages hosted on communication platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Wechat, Viber, and Telegram, or on similar services.
It advises them to take a proactive role in monitoring and removing content posted by others to their pages.
Article 19 said the advisory used ambiguous language to instruct “group admins” that they should not “be an absent administrator”, “encourage, incite or abet inappropriate posts”, “allow conversations to wonder off topic”, or “breach community standards” (set by social media companies).
The advisory also encourages “group admins” to “check posts regularly” and “consider removing or blocking those who persist in making inappropriate posts.”
“While not a legally enforceable regulation in itself, a warning on MCMC’s Facebook page accompanying the advisory stated that internet users should ‘be wise in using social media for their own protection’.
“This implies that failure to comply with the advisory may make group admins liable for the posts of others, even though this type of liability for third-party content is not currently provided for in Malaysian law.”
Article 19 noted that the MCMC advisory had been issued against a backdrop of individuals being “regularly arrested, investigated and charged for online expression critical or questioning of the government”, in particular under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, the Sedition Act 1948, and provisions of the Penal Code, which do not comply with international human rights law”.
“Article 19, therefore, considers that the MCMC advisory is seeking to deliver an implicit threat to social media users, that even if they are not the author of offending content, they can still be prosecuted by association.
“This is likely to have the effect of co-opting private internet users into the role of enforcing draconian content restrictions in the online sphere, with victims of this censorship not having any recourse to challenge or seek redress for such removals.”
International freedom of expression standards, it noted, clearly provided that no individual should be held liable for content which they were not the author of, unless they refused to obey a court order to remove that content.
It said the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression has warned that “private actors should not be pressured by legal or extra-legal means to take steps that unnecessarily or disproportionately interfere with freedom of expression”, including by removing content.
“The MCMC advisory is clearly intended to pressure social media users, against international freedom of expression standards, and against the spirit of the freedom of expression guarantees in Article 10(a) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.
“Article 19 urges the MCMC to retract the advisory without delay and make clear to social media users that they cannot be held responsible for content created by third parties.”
It also called on the government to work on comprehensive reforms to legislation that violate the right to freedom of expression, including online, in particular the CMA, the Sedition Act, and the Penal Code.