Malaysia said on Friday it would take legal action against Facebook parent company Meta Platforms (META.O) for failing to remove “undesirable” posts, the most vital measure the country has taken to date over such content. The country’s Communications and Multimedia Commission said it had recently noticed a significant volume of “harmful content” on Facebook, including race, religion, royalty, defamation, impersonation, online gambling, and scam advertisements. It said it had contacted Meta multiple times but that the firm needed more action. The commission said its legal action is necessary to promote accountability for cybersecurity and enhance consumer protection.
The government’s decision to sue Meta comes as it braces for six crucial state elections expected in August. The polls are seen as a first test of support for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s multiethnic coalition against a conservative Malay Muslim alliance. It also comes as Malaysia grapples with racial and religious tensions following last year’s closely fought national election.
Last year’s election was marred by racist and anti-Muslim hate speech and violence. The tussle over race and religion is sensitive in Malaysia, which has a majority of Muslim ethnic Malays and significant Chinese and Indian minorities. Commentary on the country’s revered rulers is incredibly delicate and can be punishable by sedition laws.
In September, the Ministry of religious affairs arrested a man who had proclaimed himself a prophet and accused him of spreading teachings of a banned deviant sect. The sect was founded by Abdul Kahar Ahmad, a former government-backed cleric, who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and six strokes of caning.
Earlier this month, the government warned it might take similar measures against the popular messaging app Telegram for being a hub for pornography, drugs, and investment scams that have cost Malaysians some 45 million ringgit ($9.6 million) since January 2020. The minister in charge of the communications and digital economy has vowed to crack down on the abuse.
In the lawsuit against Meta, the Malaysian commission said it has found that the company violated its privacy rules by allowing teens to use the products without age or identity authentication and thus exposing them to harmful and exploitative content. It also alleged that Meta showed negligence in marketing its products to youths by not conducting research or providing proper warnings and instructions. The lawsuit seeks damages and a court order to require Meta to implement safeguards for its products that would help protect minors from sexual predators. The company could argue that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields it from liability for its users’ posts. Stay on top of tech news and startup trends. Subscribe to our daily newsletter, which is delivered right to your inbox.