DEMOCRACY IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA DISRUPTION
This is a time of profound disruption across all facets of international relations. As information technology reshapes societies everywhere, we have reached an unprecedented intersection between opportunity and risk. While its utilitarian benefits are well known, social media also facilitates the spread of harmful misinformation and falsehoods at unmatched speed and scale, endangering the informed citizenry essential to healthy democracies.
Malaysia has long been heralded as a beacon of moderation, demonstrating a harmonious balance between its rich Islamic heritage and modernity. Historically, Malaysia has navigated the complex waters of religious expression with a deft hand, allowing for a pluralistic society where different faiths coexist peacefully under the umbrella of a predominantly Muslim population.
However, the ubiquity of social media platforms has ushered in new challenges. The digital age has allowed for the rapid dissemination of information, but it has also become a conduit for more intolerant ideologies to seep into the Malaysian discourse. These strains of thought, often rooted in a more rigid interpretation of Islam, have found fertile ground in the unregulated expanses of the online world. The phenomenon is not unique to Malaysia; it mirrors the rise of fascist right-wing elements in Europe and beyond - I’m careful not to mention the US -, where misinformation campaigns have successfully amplified fringe views into mainstream consciousness.
In the process, falsehood trumps truth, providing fodder to spin narratives founded on lies and deceit. Take the case of the web of duplicity and disinformation spun around the narrative on Malaysia’s position on the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That in calling for a ceasefire and a stop to the incessant bombing of Gaza, Malaysia somehow condones acts of terrorism.
As I had declared in the Malaysian Parliament, there are no two ways about it. We condemn terrorism, in all its forms, and we categorically condemn the actions of killing innocent lives and taking women and children as hostages. Likewise, we unequivocally condemn the bombing of civilians, of homes and hospitals and the consequential atrocities against innocent lives, children, women, and men being carried out day and night in Gaza with impunity. These are blatant violations of international law.
Malaysia views this as a humanitarian crisis precipitated by a brutal and indiscriminate war. Ultimately, this isn’t about which God we pray to. After all, the more than 11,000 victims in Gaza comprise Muslims and Christians as well as nationalities of various countries. This is about preventing more deaths, more suffering and more hate. Proponents of the Palestinian cause are neither purveyors of hate speech nor supporters of terrorism.
What’s happening today in Palestine will affect us all. The implications of this strife are significant and long-lasting. It is poised to affect not just Palestine or the broader Middle East, but also leave an imprint on global relations for many years to come.