Last week, newspaper offices were bombarded with telephone calls from concerned members of the public who wanted to know whether there was any truth to talk of impending riots.
The impact of the rumours was so bad
that it prompted a colleague in London
to call the office to check.
By Friday afternoon, the rumours had grown to monstrous proportions: A riot
involving Indonesians had broken out in Chow Kit.
The source of such loose talk was a chat
group of some Internet subscribers. A printout of the cyber conversation was made and faxed all over the place with total disregard for
The people involved in the chat group
had obviously failed to realise that such Internet discussions are followed widely.
The one big flaw in such Internet
postings is that much of the information in cyberspace need not be the truth and that senders take no responsibility for what they write.
The same applies to the messages in soc.culture.malaysia and sang kancil where many writers express their views with no respect for the facts.
Many of these supposedly educated Internet subscribers sometimes show scant
sensitivity for the feelings of
Slander and libel do not make a person
courageous, neither is it freedom of
On the same day, the capital was abuzz
with rumours that Datuk Seri Anwar
Ibrahim had resigned.
As the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out
later in the day, there was no basis to
rumours about his imminent resignation
as Finance Minister.
The rumours could have gained credence
because on the same day a regional
business daily had run a front-page
story on the purported differences
between Anwar and Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir
The timing was most unfortunate, however.
These rumour-mongers, whether they
realise it or not, do cause deleterious effects on the ringgit and the stock market.
The talk that Anwar had scheduled a press conference at 4pm that day was exploited by these irresponsible
elements to spread the rumour that he
was announcing his resignation.
Although the local media repeatedly told stock market dealers that the press conference was on financial
matters, many chose to be sceptical
because of its timing near the market's
It would help if the media offices of
the various ministries state the purpose
of their press conferences.
Knowing well the dicey position of the
country's financial market, it makes
sense to be clear about our
The police have rightly warned rumour-mongers
that they will be arrested if found
The authorities and the media should
refute rumours which appear on the Internet, and Internet users must be
prepared to face the consequences if
they are irresponsible.
And Malaysians should learn to be less
gullible. Sometimes, we tend to believe
what we want to believe.
Some of those who called The Star would
not believe there was no trouble. One
caller accused the media of covering up. Another said that since nothing had been reported on TV,
there must be some truth in what he had
Many of us choose to believe regular writers on the Internet. Even when some of them have got their facts wrong, their credibility in cyberspace
has amazingly not been affected.
Like electronic viruses waiting to
infect the personal computers of
unwary users, half-truths and lies
bide their time in cyberspace before pouncing on some gullible surfer.
Because the local media is more
responsible, it is perceived by
some as docile and government controlled. As a result, it has suffered a
dent in its image among those who hold
to the print-and-be damned approach as press freedom.
So, those hungry for dirt turn to the
Internet which is uncensored and
The confusion over the recent rumours should make us all sit up and think. We want unimpeded access to everything because we insist that we are mature enough.
But if we forget ourselves and join the
herd, we would only rush headlong to
Let us not take for granted our strong,
political leadership and our tolerant
multi-racial society more so in these
uncertain economic times.
The roller-coaster ride has just begun.
More than ever, Malaysians ought to
stick together and back the Government
to overcome the rough patches