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Malaysia reverses plan to take legal action against Meta over harmful content

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KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysia may not go through with a plan to take legal action against Facebook parent Meta Platforms following “positive” engagement with the firm on tackling harmful content on the social media platform, communications minister Fahmi Fadzil said in an interview on Friday.

Last month, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said it would take legal action against Meta for failing to act against “undesirable” content relating to race, royalty, religion, defamation, impersonation, online gambling, and scam advertisements.

Fahmi said Meta had since given a firm commitment to work with Malaysian authorities, including the regulator and the police, to tackle such posts on its platforms.

“I don’t think MCMC needs at this point in time to initiate any legal action. I think this level of cooperation is very positive,” he said, adding that the government was considering measures such as fines against social media platforms if they failed to tackle harmful content.

Facebook is Malaysia’s biggest social media platform, with an estimated 60 per cent of the country’s 33 million people having a registered account.

Fahmi dismissed concerns raised over increased government scrutiny of online content, and denied issuing orders to take down several opposition-linked news sites and social media accounts in recent weeks.

The take-downs, he said, were likely to have been made in response to complaints made by ordinary users for violating social media guidelines.

The outages came as Malaysia prepares to hold regional elections next month that will pit Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s administration against a conversative Malay-Muslim alliance.

The government did not intend to curb freedom of expression, but drew the line at content touching on race, religion, and royalty, Fahmi said.

“Those who cry out, saying that we are an iron-fisted dictatorship, I think they’re being a tad bit dramatic,” he said.

Race and religion are thorny issues in Malaysia, which has a majority of mainly Muslim ethnic Malays alongside significant Chinese and Indian minorities.

Malaysia also has laws prohibiting insults against its sultans, who play a largely ceremonial role. An opposition figure was charged this month with sedition for allegedly insulting them.

Separately, Fahmi said Malaysia’s major telecommunications firms will form the country’s second 5G network, as part of the government’s plan to end a monopoly held by state-owned 5G agency Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB).

The firms, which have agreed to take up stakes in DNB and use its network, will split to form the second 5G entity when coverage reaches 80 per cent of populated areas, Fahmi said.

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