Our biggest challenge

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Malaysia now faces its biggest challenge — this was the crux of my speech during the launch of my latest book, a collection of articles from my blog Zaidgeist, at my house yesterday.

It’s true that kleptocracy has been going on for a while now, and it has become increasingly difficult to ascertain exactly how much the elites and their leaders have stolen of the nation’s wealth, where it has all gone and how it was done. The cover-ups have just been too widespread.

However, the greatest danger to our country in the longer term is our inability to distinguish what is fake from what is real. Fakery is now big business for the Government, especially because of the coming General Election, but fake news and disinformation will persist long after the polls due to our weak education system. A poor grasp of knowledge makes it difficult for young Malaysians to understand the issues properly. This, in turn, makes them vulnerable to fake news, spin and the work of cybertroopers who are paid to spread certain viewpoints.

How can you tell fake leather from the genuine kind? Only by buying more shoes, handbags, and understanding how leather is cured and how the tanning process makes good leather. In other words, we have to know more about leather and how it is made. Similarly, the only way we can fight the conveyors of fake news is to know more about the things happening in our lives. We have to find out more for ourselves and not rely on the information that is being fed to us.

Let’s take the case of the Bank Negara Governor’s recent statement that the central bank always buys land at market price. I did not know that. I had always assumed that if Bank Negara wanted land, the Government would provide it to them. But then, I do not know enough about Bank Negara and how it works, so I have to check for myself. I have to find out if Bank Negara bought the land and the building where it is now located from the Government at market price. I have to find out what other big land purchases Bank Negara has made from the Government. Only then can I confirm if the Governor’s statement is true or false.

I hope all Malaysians will do what they can to determine if the information they are given is true. There are many online and archival facilities that disseminate correct facts that counter the carriers of fake news. I know some political parties have a large army of cybertroopers who are paid well to disseminate anything beneficial to them, but if the citizens of this country are able to counter them, then the purveyors of fake news will lose the battle.

We will soon have a new law that will frighten you away from using the Internet to disseminate information. But if you are honest and are willing to verify your facts as much as possible, you must not be afraid of intimidation and fight back. Spread the facts, because the truth generally wins.

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