Politicians are known for making tons of comments in the media. After all, being a public servant involves doing that on a day-to-day basis. But, every so often, we get ministers in Malaysia who make comments that are downright bizarre.
Take for instance Rais Yatim, the current Information and Communication minister, who was quoted in national news wire, Bernama, as saying: "We are not saying that [Malaysians] cannot use Facebook or Twitter, but when using such facilities they must upkeep the values taught by Islam, Buddhism or Christianity, to maintain our culture."
The report began by stating that Malaysians, especially Muslims, must avoid being totally immersed in the Internet culture, especially Facebook and Twitter, and that facilities like the Internet cannot be "accepted totally because it is a form of business introduced by the West and that [Malaysians] are just users."
Hmm, I'm trying to reflect on the so many perplexing issues this thinking has opened up to us.
Assuming he was quoted correctly (because politicians often decry the fact that they're often quoted out of context by the media), the first thing I'm wondering about is how agnostic and neutral inventions can be blamed for our so-called "declining culture among citizens in the country"?
Indeed most technological inventions are made in the West--including the Internet, personal computers and the broadband connections that enable us to go online. So, are we to shun them all?
If we started blaming the inventions that man has made for our social ills or culture degradation, why only blame Facebook and Twitter? Why not literally blame the hundreds of inventions that have come before social media?
If this were so, the Idiot Box, also known as the TV, should be the first invention to be blamed. Why stop there? What about satellite TV? Or automobiles? How about the personal computer? Why stop there? Why not blame the microwave oven, vacuum cleaner or even the toaster?
The incredulity about the right honorable minister's statement is that three days after making such a comment, The Star reported that this same minister urged telecommunication companies to also give priority to content on culture and the development of human civilization via technology.
The report goes on to say "this would further help stimulate the minds of Malaysians, more so this in this era of sophisticated and borderless communications, and was an aspect of content the telcos should address besides chasing profits".
Hello? Can anyone see the vast contradictions here?
On the one hand, the honorable minister lambasts Western creations such as Facebook and Twitter, implying that they negatively influence Malaysians but at the same time, he asks telcos--the prime movers and shakers of technology usage--to spread culture via technology!
No wonder the right honorable minister was sarcastically a target of tweets Khairy Jamaluddin, the thirty-something Member of Parliament, savvy Twitter user and son-in-law of former premier Abdullah Badawi, saying: "Thanks for your views. As a responsible party man, I shall listen to party elders. This will be my last tweet for a very, very long time."
But unable to hold back his derision, he wrote three hours later: "Tried hard to resist the evils of social media as per someone's advice, but clearly, I'm easy meat for penjajahan minda [mind colonization] by dunia luar [the outer world]."
So what has an invention by the West anything to do with the degradation of our culture and the promotion of so-called social ills in the country?
What is wrong with embracing an invention from the West and accepting both the good and the bad that comes from it?
Blaming the conduit for delivery of bad content or irresponsible practices is definitely not the way to solve the challenges that face today's Internet-enabled world.
That is why I suspect that every time something goes socially wrong in Malaysia, politicians overreact and make kneejerk reactions, and blame the Internet and its associated inventions as the root of all evil.
The truth about the matter is that technology, like any other things in life, can be used for both good and bad. It's not a matter of whether it was invented by the West or East--everything that is invented by man can be used for evil intent.
What technology like Facebook and Twitter may bring to the table is another conduit by which evil minds with evil intentions can exploit, but it certainly cannot be blamed for being used as the medium for perpetrating the evil intentions of men.
Archaic thinking such as controlling access to social media, saying that it is a Western invention aimed at making money and that we're just users to downright censoring the Internet isn't going to keep people from accessing what the authorities deem harmful or undesirable.
What the country should be focusing on is dealing with the barrage of influences by educating our citizens, and in particular, the young, that whatever we do online has consequences in reality, and like in the real world, people who do wrong things online will have to be accountable for their actions.
Which is why it was good for the authorities to act swiftly whenever technology is misused to achieve evil intent such as in the recent case where a 25-year-old was arrested and charged for comments made on his Facebook profile over the recent spate of church attacks in the country.
Technology is agnostic and neutral. It should not be made the scapegoat or put up as a smokescreen. Blaming Facebook, Twitter, and every other invention that originates from the West merely serves to clip away the symptoms of the problem, and does not address the root problem itself.
Malaysian leaders, in particular, those who are directly involved in technology, must see the distinction between the usage of technology and its agnostic nature and how twisted people can always use technology to bring evil intention to fruition.
Perhaps then, real efforts can be made to rectify the challenges instead of just blaming technology and its associated inventions squarely for the decline of our moral and ethical degradation.
And, by the way, Twitterers had a field day with the minister's comment, making it one of the top ten Twitter topics worldwide.