Engaging in bitter public spat on Twitter is fast becoming a way of life. Some say the abuse has gone beyond the tolerable level. ON the first day of the Chinese New Year, an adroit Twitterer alleged on Twitter that a politician’s party was bankrolled by a Sarawakian tycoon. Incensed, the politician immediately tweeted back that he would sue the Twitterer for defaming him and his party.
And to the delight of their followers, the two engaged in a rather bitter public spat on TwitterJaya (the moniker of the Malaysian Twittersphere). However, because it was during the Chinese New Year, the politician decided not to pursue his legal threat. I was reminded of the Twitter altercation when I read that Lalit Modi — once the most powerful man in cricket — was ordered to pay an equivalent of £1,000 (RM4,894) for each of his tweets in which he accused Chris Cairns, a former New Zealand cricket captain, of match fixing.
On March 26, Cairns won the first Twitter libel case in England Cairns, according to The Times of London, told the High Court in London that Modi’s 25-word tweet had reduced his reputation to “dust”. For those who are not familiar with Twitter, it can be a nasty cyberworld.Even Angelina Jolie’s right leg has not been spared.
At this year’s Academy Awards, Jolie posed on the red carpet in a slinky black Versace gown slit up the thigh and flashed her slender leg. The twitterverse was immediately filled with jokes such as this one: “Fun fact — Angelina Jolie only shaved her right leg tonight.”
My timeline on Twitterjaya (a collected stream of Tweets listed in real-time order) shows that there are tweets which are not as pretty as Jolie’s right leg. @tilianker (Datuk Ti Lian Ker, a MCA central committee member) described TwitterJaya as “abusive”. “It has gone beyond tolerable level. People are getting away with (abusive tweets) as we have not taken any legal action against them. We have been magnanimous,” he said.
“In my case, there is a certain MP who called me a running dog of Umno and a snake (on Twitter) and that is definitely libellous. But our Asian culture has taught us to be forgiving.” But the lawyer warned: “if we are too forgiving, we might be cultivating a biadap (uncouth) and blasting culture”. @HuanPCM (Huan Cheng Guan, Parti Cinta Malaysia vice-president) said there were Twitterers who were “just there to irritate you”.
“You can’t trace them because they don’t even put their real detail on their Twitter biodata,” he explained. “Usually they are cybertroopers who are paid by certain political parties and their job is to run down others.” The one Twitterer on my timeline who get — to use Huan’s favourite word — whacked on a daily basis is Twitter sensation @tankengliang (Tan Keng Liang, Kedah Gerakan Youth chief).
“I receive a lot of defamatory tweets daily. You can see on my timeline how many false allegations have been made against me, my party and Barisan Nasional,” Tan said. A check on his timeline revealed that the tweets were as toxic as the alleged environmental impact of a solar panel factory in Batu Kawan, Penang. (Tan, at the wrath of pro-Lynas supporters, has been tweeting furiously about the Batu Kawan solar panel factory, questioning its safety.) Tan, who is a lawyer, said he believed he would win a libel case as the Twitterer called him a liar.
“But I would not sue because as a politician we are supposed to have a higher level of tolerance.” Anyway the fearless Tan laughs whenever he sees malicious lies about him on Twitter. “I don’t even get angry as it shows how desperate certain people are against me and Barisan,” he said. “If I was with Pakatan Rakyat, these people would be friendly to me and even things that I do wrong they would give me a thumbs up.” @thomas_su (Thomas Su, DAP’s Pasir Pinji assemblyman), who follows politicians, agrees that there were indeed defamatory tweets.
“On a daily basis there are a lot of personal attacks which to a certain extent can be seen as defamatory,” he said, adding that perhaps the Twitterers were not aware that their tweets were libellous. “Our society is not litigious and most people will not take legal action if they are defamed on twitter.” @fahmi_fadzil (Fahmi Fadzil, a social activist) might disagree. Last year, in exchange of staying out of court he had to tweet an apology over three days.
And the first person in Malaysia to be sued for defamation over Twitter postings was The Sun columnist R. Nadeswaran. If you’re on Twitter, be careful as it might cost you RM4,894 for each person who reads your tweets.