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Malaysia just made fake news illegal and punishable by up to six years in jail

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Critics say the law has the ring of censorship

Dutch Prime Minister Holds Talks With The Malaysian President Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Malaysia passed a new law today that would punish citizens on social media or those working at a digital publication for spreading fake news with a 500,000 ringgit ($123,000) fine and a possible a prison sentence of up to six years. Led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Anti-Fake News bill passed in parliament today despite opponents who had criticized the bill for possibly impeding free speech and attempting to censor the prime minister’s involvement in a multibillion-dollar scandal.

A draft of the bill had specified a prison sentence of up to 10 years as punishment, but the government toned it down to six in the finalized version, as reported by Reuters. Fake news cases will be handled by an independent court process. Violators could even include those outside of Malaysia as long as they’re writing about the country or its people.

The Malaysian law defines fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false.” News includes stories, video, and audio content.

Malaysia is one of the first countries to implement a statewide ban on fake news that punishes the party that publishes the offending content. All around the world, countries are grappling with how to deal with the spread of harmful content or misinformation in their nations. Last year, Germany introduced a plan that fined social media platforms if they didn’t remove posts that included hate speech. Regulators from the Philippines had been debating how to deal with fake news in their own country, but said in February that banning fake news outright would be “unconstitutional.” Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted in an interview today that the company did not do enough to prevent the spread of sensational anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya messages on its Messenger platform.