Why have we allowed extremists so much freedom of speech?


EVERY DAY, when I go on social media, online news portals, or my WhatsApp chat groups, I read, watch, or hear some extremists spewing yet another voluminous tirade of political, economic, social, or fake news pertaining to race, religion, sex, and anything else under the sun. They seem to be unhappy with everything!

I still remember that back in the days before May 9, 2018, any little provocation of this sort, either actually spoken, perceived to have been uttered, or even just assumed to have taken place – would place that person who had generated such ‘news’ in immediate danger of being instantly reprimanded or even arrested.

So what has happened in the last nine months since the Pakatan Harapan government took over from Barisan National? (Except for Sarawak where the BN coalition has changed its name to GPS but otherwise remains the same.)

There have been many changes brought about by the new Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir as well as his cabinet and we have seen some of them.

But we can also say that in many areas not much has changed, and the people are restless and impatient to see more promised upheavals actually happening. The word on the ground is that it has taken too long and the most widely asked question I hear these days is ‘When will justice be served on Najib and when will his court cases proceed?’ Everyone I know seems to be most anxious to see him clad in orange and on his way to Sungai Buloh.

Personally I think that the new PH government has given too much leeway to these extremists and cyber-troopers, who are all out to create havoc and make trouble for them in whatever way they see fit. They know that, for the time being anyway, the newly formed coalition of PH is still undergoing a learning curve in their various ministerial portfolios and that Tun M himself has also relaxed his grip compared to the dictatorial old Tun M during his previous time in office.

The civil service in the enforcement sectors are keeping rather quiet and going about doing their duties, although some little Napoleons still rule and carry on undisturbed in their own set ways – hoping that so long as they do not create any untoward scandal or ripples in the new political sea, they are safe for the time being. Others who had openly supported the old regime are just bidding their time for their scheduled (or applied for) retirement.

In the meanwhile, cyber-troopers paid for by Umno and PAS and their supporters are having a field day. Some are just pure mercenaries doing a paid job of disparaging the PH government, others are hardcore supporters from before May 9. A handful have been reprimanded, repudiated, and even charged in court; but the majority still merrily go about taking continuous potshots and stone-pelting the newbies serving in the PH government at all levels, from the most junior assistant minister to the No. 1 job.

What have we seen so far?

These cyber-troopers and hard-hitters from the present opposition camp have turned nasty, and gone retro by pulling out the old demons of race, religion, and sex. When all else fails, these dependable boogeymen are always available to appeal to the basest of human emotions and attract the attention of the simple man on the street, be it at the kampung level or in the city skyscrapers.

Everyone is easily attracted to sensationalised headlines, scandalous stories, and steamy anecdotes. Once mixed with politics, race, and religion, it becomes as potent as a nuclear bomb – except these days it’s known as going viral. Let me illustrate what going viral means in very simplistic terms for those, who like me, only understood the real meaning of it rather recently.

This is based on a true life real incident which just happened a few days ago and it came from the horse’s mouth and I happened to be just a spoke in the wheel of things.

My friend Ms A had caught sight of someone walking on top of her neighbour’s roof at midday in a rather busy part of the suburbs of Kuching. Just out of curiosity she had taken out her smartphone to video it. Seconds later, she realised that it was a break-in in progress, in broad daylight, in front of her eyes, and just a few doors away! She recorded a few minutes of it until the burglar fell off the roof after being chased by others.

Ms A had then proceeded to share her clip with “a close friend”, not knowing that she in turn would then forward it to her WhatsApp chat group. Now, depending on the number of people in your chat group; let’s just say six for illustration; these six people would almost instantly forward the clip to their other chat groups. In less than a few minutes, this little video clip had gone viral exponentially – just go figure – from one to six, from six to 60, from 60 to 600, and so on and so forth.

This is the reason why cyber-troopers (from both sides of the political divide) are so influential and dangerous – and if there are extremist views expressed they would logically be responded to by even more extremist views and retorts. Bad news spreads quickly, good news is usually tucked away to sleep.

In this day and age, where every single one of us can cause a public disturbance, create havoc in the marketplace, and subtly change public opinion, extremist views are most lethal and can potentially start revolutions and overthrow governments. It’s impossible to put a real stop to it, but we can all be wiser and be more perceptive, but most of all, do be more selective in what you choose to share with your friends and family on social media and on your WhatsApp groups.

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