The Malaysian government says it is evaluating the need to ban access to Facebook following incidents of abuse on the social media, but critics argue any move to do so is primitive and will face strong opposition.
"If the people [of Malaysia] are of the opinion that Facebook should be closed, we are prepared to look into the matter," Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek told local reporters after an Umno meeting over the weekend. The ministry is currently gathering public views on this issue, he said, noting that it had received 2,000 complaints involving abuse on the website.
However, he admitted that mandating a ban on Facebook would be "a radical approach", reported local news agency Bernama. Ahmad Shabery added that it would be "quite impossible" to shut down access when there were 15 million Facebook accounts in Malaysia.
Many business people are also using Facebook, while others use the site to strengthen family ties and have nothing to do with politics, he said. "The complaints received were only around 2,000. Should we completely close it down because of that? We need to relook this," the minister said.
He referred to a recent case where an individual had uploaded a picture of an accident victim, which he had replaced with the face of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, who is Sultan of Kedah. Ahmad Shabery said the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission was working with law enforcement to identify the individual.
In 2010, a Malaysian student was arrestedand charged for comments made on his Facebook account regarding a spate of church attacks in the country. In December that year, Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Seri Dr Shahidan Kassim urged for Facebook to be banned if it continued to reflect content that posed a threat to national security and insulted Islam.
Ban goes against government's no-censorship pledge
Opposition party DAP said it would hold nationwide protests to oppose any mandate to block Facebook, saying any such attempt violated the right to freedom of expression and would go against the government's pledge not to censor the web.
The Malaysian government in 1996 had promised to "ensure no internet censorship" as one of its 10 Point Bill of Guarantees when it launched the nation's Multimedia Super Corridor ICT strategy. It did so as part of efforts to attract foreign tech investment.
Calling a proposed Facebook ban a "primitive proposal", DAP secretary-general and chief minster for Penang, Lim Guan Eng, said this would deny Malaysians' right to voice their views and deprive the country's young and underprivileged a communication tool that was accessible, reported The Malaysian Insider.
DAP Social Media Strategist and State Assemblywoman for Damansara Utama, Yeo Bee Yin, added in a statement: "If Facebook is to be banned in Malaysia, we'll join the likes of North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and China as 'Facebook-banning countries', a path that no Malaysian who cherishes freedom of expression will ever allow.
"We would like to remind Putrajaya of the Multimedia Super Corridors Bill of Guarantees No.7 that promises no internet censorship. Since it has already promised no Internet censorship, then why waste time to even think and talk about blocking Facebook?" she said, according to The Malaysian Insider. Yeo added that Facebook is currently the largest social network in Malaysia.
Lim added that a ban could negatively impact the local economy as well business opportunities that depend on Facebook, potentially leading losses.
Malaysian Airlines' MHbuddy service, launched in 2011, lets passengers book and manage their flights as well as check-in via Facebook.
The latest turn of events follows last week's call by the country's former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad to censor the internet to prevent it from eroding public morality. He said his government should not have promised not to censor the web as it did not then understand the "power of the internet".