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Adam Minter

Fake News Laws Are Fake Solution

Malaysia’s election shows why governments shouldn’t control social media. 

The previous government sought to clamp down.

The previous government sought to clamp down.

Photographer: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

In the waning days of Malaysia’s recent election campaign, then-opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad was investigated under the country’s anti-fake news law. Had he been charged and convicted, he could have spent as much as six years in prison. Instead, Mahathir was elected prime minister with a pledge to repeal the law.

After his unexpected success, Mahathir initially seemed to back off his promise; other members of his government have since sent different signals. While Malaysians have many reasons to celebrate the opposition’s surprise victory, reneging on this pledge wouldn’t be one of them. News spread on Facebook and other social media sites before and during the campaign was critical to informing and organizing Malaysian voters. Had the fake news law been in place sooner and rigorously enforced, Malaysia’s opposition might still be in opposition.