(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor is rightly angry and upset at the havoc and panic created by the first incident of malicious rumours from the Internet about riots, which caused panic buying at several hypermarkets and supermarkets in the Klang Valley on Friday.
I fully endorse his sentiments when he stressed that no one would be spared in rumour-mongering about riots involving foreign workers or fights resulting from religious conflicts, as they threaten the harmony of the country.
Rahim Noor described the rumour-mongers as "traitors" who had tarnished the image of the nation and put the people in fear. He said a team comprising officers from the federal police headquarters in Bukit Aman has been set up to tackle the menace of spreading vicious rumours via the Internet.
Yet when asked about the origin of the rumours, he said it was the work of youngsters in their 20s, who are "hooked on the Internet 24 hours and have nothing better to do except to make up such irresponsible stories".
If Rahim Noor is right that the rumour-mongering was the work of youngsters in their 20s, who are "hooked on the Internet 24 hours and have nothing better to do", then it presents a different scenario from one where the rumour-mongering is caused by "traitors" who set out to tarnish Malaysia’s image and create fear among the people to destabilise the Malaysian society.
Rahim Noor’s puzzlement as to why so many people could be panicked by the rumours despite his dismissal of them as mere rumours one day earlier is the real crux of the problem - how the authorities and the civil society can create conditions whereby irresponsible rumours like what was spread a few days ago could be effectively and credibly nipped in the bud.
This is because rumours on the Internet can emanate from inside the country or from any part of the world, which make it impossible for the authorities to track their origin. Even Internet rumours emanating from inside the country may not be traceable if they are posted through foreign servers.
Internet is a fact of life, as more and more people, whether in Malaysia or in the world, will be connected to it.
While the Police are trying to trace the culprits responsible for the recent malicious rumours on the Internet which led to the panic in the Klang Valley on Friday, the more important task is how to devise a strategy whereby the authorities could effectively rebut rumours with instant and credible information, whether on the Internet or otherwise.
The authorities should have a special IT team which has a Internet hotline to be reached by any Malaysian netizen if there are malicious rumours on the Internet so that they could be rebutted instantly, and not after several days when the damage has been done.
Furthermore, there should be a campaign to make Malaysians connected onto the Internet to realise that they must be very discerning as to the truth or falsity of the informaton they get on the Internet and even more important, that they should exercise great responsibility as netizens for anything they post and not hide behind the anonymity of the net to purvey lies, untruths and falsehoods whether against individuals, groups, governments or nations.
There is no doubt that there are a lot of irresponsible postings on the Internet, like "Assasinate Mahathir" or ‘Kill Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng". For instance, on one recent thread on a Malaysian newsgroup, someone posted the message "Assassinate Mahathir" on 5th August, while another posted the following message two days later on 7th August:
"Why don't use the bullets to kill useless people like Lim Kit Siang and his stupid son...useless bastards...why not line them up and shoot them with one bullet through the mouth..since nothing useful come out of it, just put something in...save a bullet."
Internet is not meant for anyone to spew poison and venom or incite hatred and some of the irresponsible postings on the Internet by Malaysians show that there is something very wrong with our educational system in its failure to provide the necessary moral upbringing for all Malaysians to show proper regard for truth and honesty.