Controversy surrounds Malaysian Internet freedom
There seems to be no single country today that's completely free of conflict when it comes to Internet freedom. The United States remain deep in the throes of net neutrality woes, Russia and China are still steeped in citizen censorship and the blocking of many other popular communication tools and nearly all Web users have grown extremely cautious of where their personal information is being shared.
After a recent controversy and shift in government opinion, Malaysia can now be added to this troubled roster – according to current events blog Global Voices Advocacy, Former Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has recently issued a demand to repeal Internet freedom in order to uphold the morality of the public. Expectedly, a number of citizens have already taken measures to fight back for their rights.
How Internet was "damaging public morale"
In his statement, Dr. Mohamad explained that he used to be in favor of sharing and learning information on the Internet, but that this attitude eventually went sour.
"Not knowing the power of the Internet, I promised that we would not censor it," Mohamad said according to Global Voices Advocacy. "But today I have changed my mind…I have done so because the players, including those controlling the servers have been applying their own censorship of what can appear in this alternative media [sic]. I myself have suffered from such censorship."
The suffering Mohamad describes is in reference to an incident from July 24 of this year, when Facebook prevented user from sharing a link to a blog post he wrote about his opinions on contemporary Jewish people. Under the website's policies, sharing the post, which read that Jewish people today are "behaving worse than Nazis, not caring at all for the sufferings and deaths they inflict upon others" was inappropriate for sharing, which upset Mohamad.
While citizens in the United States have expressed more concern about the censorship of the Internet via Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon, the former Malaysian prime minster directed his suspicions to people like Mark Zuckerberg who control and have a say in the policies that blogging and social media platforms provide.
"The internet is not the free alternative to the state-controlled print and electronic media it is touted to be," Mohamad continued. "It is subject to even more censorship than governments could exercise."
In some ways, this is true – while Facebook has not released a response to the political figure's comments, being a private company allows for more regulation within a website than a government can exert upon its people.
What this means for the average citizen
Whether a user agrees with Dr. Mohamad's statements in the blog post or not, his case brings up an interesting point regarding freedom of speech on the Internet. How much can a single website regulate its users contents or gather data on them for advertising purposes before laws should intervene or prevent them from going too far? Is this merely the admission of the individual user, who gives a network permission to access their information upon signing up?
There still appears to be confusion on this front. Facebook has come under fire in recent months for its faulty user policies that arguably infringe on privacy with the launch of its Messenger application, and many users have felt insecure in sharing information with the service at the risk of being monitored, according to Venture Capital Post.
The issue of freedom of speech on the Internet is a touchy one that isn't easily resolved, and can be viewed from a variety of ways. Though his statements in the blog post were potentially offensive and harmful, should Dr. Mohamad have been allowed to share it? Difficult questions like these will continue to inform the direction of Internet freedom in the future.