By: Harris Zainul and Farlina Said
Owing to the novelty of COVID-19, much uncertainty had surrounded it when it was first discovered in December 2019. In the months since, more light has been shed on the novel coronavirus, yet the timespan in between was marked with fear and uncertainty, lending itself to a surge in false information. This had included false claims pertaining to the source of COVID-19, how it is transmitted from one person to another, how to treat the novel coronavirus, conspiracy theories about its origins and the vaccines in development, the actions being taken by authorities, among many, many others.
Considering experts have been warning how the pandemic would not be a short-lived affair and would lead to new normals, an understanding of the infodemic in Malaysia is a worthwhile exercise. To that end, this paper will present and discuss the overarching issues related to the COVID-19 infodemic; the scale, trends and themes of COVID-19 false information in the Malaysian context; the current efforts undertaken by the Malaysian government to address false information; before concluding with policy recommendations.
By presenting the scale, trends and themes of COVID-19-related false information in Malaysia, it is hoped that this paper would pave the way for a more systematic understanding of the COVID-19 infodemic (and other studies of the information environment) in the country. For policymakers, we hope that the gap analysis and policy recommendation sections of this paper would help inform policymaking moving forward. Relatedly, we also hope that this paper will demonstrate how policymaking to regulate false information can be compatible with more progressive readings of free speech rights. More generally, we hope that by highlighting the types of false information seen so far would allow readers to be able to spot it better moving forward.