Why blaming tech, social media is pointless
|An engineer by training, Edwin has since turned his back on the engineering world in favour of words in the literary world. A freelance journalist & an editorial consultant writing on his own terms now, Edwin hopes his observations will stir up deeper discussions and debates within Malaysia. You can find Edwin occasionally at twitter.com/yedwin01.|
MARCH 26 — The blame game has started... again.
Last week, The Malaysian Insider reported that Internal Security and Public Order director Datuk Salleh Mat Rasid said the Internet posed a challenge to the police as it allowed people “to know what was going on in and outside the country.”
In an interview with Utusan Malaysia published last Friday, Salleh said that in a borderless world, human thinking changes significantly, especially towards liberalism. “They say things that cannot be done, can be done, and that there is no problem to this,” he was quoted as saying in a report by news portal Malaysiakini.
He went on to say that when the thinking of Malaysians is influenced by negative things, particularly those that threaten public security and order, it can bring an “unsafe situation to the country.”
As a senior cop in charge of public order and security, Salleh is likely to know things we are not privy to, and certainly has the prerogative to hold on to his views.
But to blame social media tools Twitter and Facebook for allowing people “to know what was going on in and outside the country” is just plain wrong.
In the more than a decade of covering the tech scene in Malaysia, I’ve heard many occasions where politicians and people in power suggest that technological tools are to be blamed for the negativity brought upon Malaysia.
For example, a couple of years ago, newswire Bernama reported that Malaysians, especially Muslims, must avoid being totally immersed in the Internet culture, especially Facebook and Twitter, and that facilities like the Internet cannot be “accepted totally because it is a form of business introduced by the West and that [Malaysians] are just users.”
What I find frustrating is that every time there are perceived negative influences that hit our nation, the powers-that-be find it convenient to lay blame squarely at the feet of technology, and make it an expedient scapegoat for all and sundry that goes wrong with our nation.
Salleh’s statement is but one of many examples.
And on every occasion when these statements are made, I’ve argued time and again that blaming agnostic and neutral inventions isn’t a tenable argument, especially in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world.
Indeed most technological inventions are made in the West, including the Internet, personal computers and the broadband technology that enable us to go online. So, are we to shun them all?
If we started blaming the inventions that man has made for our social ills or culture degradation and public security breaches, why only blame Facebook and Twitter? Why not literally blame the hundreds of inventions that have come before social media?
If this were so, the “idiot box,” also known as the TV, should be the first invention to be blamed.
But hang on... the idiot box. Consider for a moment why this box hasn’t usually been blamed for public security disorder.
Could it be that for decades, information that is being disseminated via our TV is engineered in such a partisan way that there is no reason to for the powers-that-be to complain about the content being bad for Malaysians in the first place?
Could it be that the information disseminated is so one sided and limited that there is no room for anyone to debate, doubt or challenge its veracity and credibility?
If so, then I can understand perfectly why our TV programming broadcast by government-linked media companies has never really been publicly blamed by officials for encouraging public disorder.
But what of Facebook and Twitter? Simply put: these tools are a different kettle of fish.
You see, because the powers-that-be don’t control Internet content — as much of such content is user generated in nature — they also can’t control the impact of the content. The same can be said of Internet-based alternative media.
With no way of controlling the impact, there is also no way of controlling the minds of the people, notably the electorate. And with no way to control the electorate’s minds, there is no way to control their actions too.
This is the reason I believe the Web and all its associated tools are being targeted as conduits that bring negativity to our beloved nation.
And what of Salleh’s worry that such tools can bring harm to the country and induce public disorder and disharmony in the nation?
Sure. People can always use technology for both good and evil. After all, evil people have used the most ubiquitous device in the world — the mobile phone — as detonating devices in bombs before. And terrorists have used the encryption on the Internet to hide their communication from the authorities.
But technology like Facebook and Twitter is merely another conduit, which evil minds with evil intentions can exploit. But it certainly cannot be blamed for being used as the medium for perpetrating the evil intentions of men.
Truth is, archaic thinking such as controlling access to social media, and saying that it is a Western invention aimed at disrupting our lives here in Malaysia really isn’t going to keep people from accessing what the authorities deem harmful or undesirable, or what they believe will incite violence and/or public disorder.
Rather than blaming these tools, the powers-that-be need to realise that information is already at the finger tips of citizens and that they should engage them with such tools because you can’t just shut it out and hope that evil won’t happen or that the powers-that-be have everything under control.
For those who do flout these tools to further their agenda and promote instability or public disorder, by all means, bring to book these people through due process and the rule of law.
But leave being critical of technology, social media and the like out of it.
Because blaming technology and every other invention just serves to clip away the symptoms of the problem, which doesn’t address the root problem itself, and will get us nowhere.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.