(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad yesterday again branded Malaysians who had spread rumours of disturbances in Kuala Lumpur as "traitors" and "cowards". Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Tajol Rosli said the Government would use all laws, including the Internal Security Act, to stop rumour-mongers from creating havoc in the country.
Kuala Lumpur city police chief, Deputy Comm Kamaruddin Ali said police have roped in computer experts to track down those responsible for spreading rumours.
The Government should not go overboard in denunciation of rumour-mongers on the Internet as to overlook the failure of having an information system in place which could have nipped such Internet rumours in the bud.
The authorities should realise that in the era of Information Technology, when information is transmitted with the speed of light, time is of the essence, and when vicious rumours are spread on the Internet which can destroy the social harmony of Malaysia, there should be an instantaneous response to rebut the rumours by posting true and credible information on the net.
The phrase "Time is of the essence" takes on a completely different dimension in the world of information technology, and the Police cannot wait for a few days or even one day to respond to harmful rumours on the Internet.
The Internet rumours about foreign workers arming themselves and that there would trouble had been circulated electronically as early as August 5, if not earlier, and if the authorities had taken instant action to rebut the rumours on the Internet, the situation would not have gone out of control on the evening of August 7 causing panic rush to the hypermarts and supermarkets and fear among the people.
I would prefer to see the authorities focussing on how to develop an information system which could prevent the recurrence of the recent incident, for the nature of the Internet is such that it is impossible to develop a fool-proof system to check the posting of malicious and vicious rumours on the Internet.
What is important is to create awareness among Malaysian netizens that they cannot believe everything they encounter on the Internet as well as having an information system in place which could rebut vicious and malicious Internet rumours by instantaneously posting true and credible information.
In a way, what happened last Friday is an indication that in many important areas, we are not ready for the advent of Information Technology and the Internet, despite the numerous statements ad nauseum which have been made by government leaders about positioning Malaysia in the forefront of Information Technology.
The Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday should set up a special National Information Technology taskforce comprising IT and security experts to devise an information system which could save the country from a repetition of last Friday’s panic emanating from the spread of Internet rumours.
If invited to participate on the National Information Technology taskforce, the DAP is prepared to nominate a person who could contribute to ensuring that the benefits of Internet are not overwhelmed by its vices.