Monday, 3 December 2018
FORMER PROMINENT BLOGGER JEFF OOI WARNS READERS TO BE DISCERNING ABOUT CONTENT ONLINE
Back in 2007 & 2008, blogging was the hip, hype and happening thing on the Malaysian cyberspace scene and Jeff Ooi was a political blogger with is blog Screenshots.
At the time, the talk in IT media circles was whether blogs would undermine mainstream media, whether bloggers can be regarded as professional journalists and so forth.
Jeff and fellow blogger Ahiruddin Attan (Rocky's Bru) became big heroes amongst Netizens back then when the New Straits Times Press, its deputy chairman Datuk Kalimullah Hassan, Group Editor-in-Chief Datuk Hishamuddin Aun and former Group Editor Brendan Pereira. filed a lawsuit in January 2007, alleging that an article which they wrote had accused Brendan Pereira of plagiarising an article by journalist Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press, as they were regarded as two "Davids" versus a "Goliath".
Jeff Ooi was a member of the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan - Malaysian People's Movement) party which at the time was a component of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, though shortly before Malaysia's 12th general elections on 8 March 2018, Jeff quit Gerakan and joined the opposition Democratic Action Party to contest against a candidate from his former party Gerakan for the Jelutong parliamentary seat in Penang.
Jeff announced his candidacy with a big bang at the Food Foundry cafe in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, amidst members of the media, the blogerati, Facebookerati and Twitterati. There was no WhatsApp back then or there would also have been the WhatsApperati present beam news of the event to smartphones all over (though there weren't as many smartphones around back then apart from Symbian and Windows Mobile based smartphones.
I told Jeff via a comment on Screenshots that he should get out of cyberspace and campaign face to face on the ground in Jelutong.
I later read that when Jeff went onto the ground in Jelutong, he discovered that hardly anybody knew of him, whilst those in the IT ivory tower, including members of the ICT media had hailed him as a "prominent blogger" (well within their small world, that is).
Soon after, I noticed Jeff's frequency of posting on Screenshots dropped dramatically.
When polling day came, Jeff won Jelutong with 67% of the vote versus the Gerakan candidate.
Obviously, Jeff had rolled up his sleeves, put on his walking shoes and pounded the streets of Jelutong, meeting and talking to people in realspace.
When Jeff attended his first parliamentary session as a Member of Parliament, the media had pictures of him blogging from parliament but after that, he rarely posted on Screenshots and his presence kid of faded from the blogosphere.
In the May 2013 general elections, Jeff held Jelutong with 70% of the vote, trashing his Gerakan opponent.
But, the DAP did not field Jeff for a third term in the 9 May 2018 general elections and according to media reports, Jeff had turned to focus his attention on photography.
Anyway, Jeff is back in the news again, warning people to be careful about what they read online.
I'll put that another way - There's plenty of scheiss online today.
PETALING JAYA: A former political blogger has sounded a warning over media literacy in the country, saying Malaysians could be in trouble if they do not improve their ability to tell fact from fiction.
Jeff Ooi, whose blog "Screenshots" came out tops in the Asia category of the Freedom Blogs Awards given by Reporters Without Borders in 2005, said fake news was a worldwide phenomenon catalysed by social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Being a multicultural and multi-religious country, he warned, Malaysia was a "tinder box" of potential hot spots which could be ignited by fake news at any time.
"Fake news and rumour-mongering have the potential to create massive social unrest," the former Jelutong MP told FMT, cautioning Malaysians not to believe everything being circulated on social media.
Ooi, who is also an IT consultant, said the algorithms behind social media platforms determine which posts are highlighted on-site. This means anyone who understands how these programmes work can manipulate stories to receive higher rankings and generate more clicks with readers.
"That's where the sharing and ranking with the aim of distorting the truth can happen," he said.
He added that many social media users were gullible and believed everything they read.
He urged the people to check the facts and to be more critical of any information received, especially if it was reported without a reliable source.
However, in a recent panel discussion on social media organised by the Jeffrey Cheah institute, he said he saw no need for extra legislation to counter the spread of fake news, saying Malaysia had enough laws governing news-related crimes.
"I think we have to go through all this as part of the growing pains of a democratic society, where we develop from being naive to being sophisticated.
"People actively using social media need to develop a strong sense of responsibility because whatever they say will be spread far and wide across the web."
The Anti-Fake News Act was passed by the Dewan Rakyat on April 2 and came into effect on April 11, just before the May 9 polls which swept Pakatan Harapan to federal power.
Critics said the act, which aimed to combat misinformation and rumours, was unnecessary and muzzled press freedom. They also claimed it was bulldozed through Parliament.
On Aug 16, the Dewan Rakyat approved a motion to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act. However, the bill was rejected by the Dewan Negara less than a month later on Sept 12.
Under the act, those found guilty of spreading "wholly or partly false" news can be fined up to RM500,000, jailed up to six years or both.
The law applies to both Malaysians and foreigners, even if the offence occurs outside the country.
'Democracy is messy'
Pauline Leong, a senior lecturer in media studies at Sunway University, agreed that there was no need for additional laws to curb fake news.
She added that the Anti-Fake News Act had not been properly debated before becoming law, saying it was rushed through with insufficient input.
Like Ooi, she said the presence of misinformation was a symptom of an intellectually developing society in a free democracy.
"Democracy is very messy," she said during the panel discussion, recommending that further debate be held in Parliament as well as the public arena to ascertain the need for the Anti-Fake News Act and other similar laws.
She also noted that people could be emotional when it comes to social media, and often forwarded information without checking on its source.
She recommended teaching media literacy in schools as a long-term strategy to tackle the spread of fake news.
"If we teach the young how to determine fake news from real news, we will have a generation that is aware of the impact of what they do online."
MCA vice-president Ti Lian Ker however said there was no need to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act.
"Just fine-tune it," he said. "If there is a provision that might be abused, simply repeal that."
I cannot find Jeff's Screenshots blog online today, though Rocky's blog is still alive and well at http://www.rockybru.com.my/
Rather ironically, these two former comrades in arms in cyberspace back then were and are respectively aligned to two opposing political parties in realspace - i.e. Jeff to DAP, Rocky (Ahiruddin Attan) to UMNO.
Yours most truly