Dr Sim vs Chong: MCMC witness questioned over actual reach of public Facebook post, number of Malaysian Facebook users

Seen are members of Dr Sim's legal team (front, from left) Lim, Yiu and Shakar Ram.

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By Dorcas Ting

KUCHING, June 28: A public Facebook post has the potential to reach 24 million Facebook users in Malaysia and overseas.

Rodney Scott Dreman Stephen, deputy director of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Sarawak (MCMC) was subpoenaed as a witness to produce all the information and/or documentary records of the registered user and/or owner of the Facebook account with the username “Chong Chieng Jen 张 建 仁 ” in the defamation case brought by Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) president Dr Sim Kui Hian against Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) chairman Chong Chieng Jen.

During the examination-in-chief by Dr Sim’s counsel Shankar Ram Asnani, Rodney said he concluded that the Facebook account belonged to Chong as after he had keyed in the link into the browser and it had led him to the Facebook page for Chong Chieng Jen and based on the information in the ‘About’ page, it showed the name, photos, email and the link to Chong’s personal blog.

However, he said he did not know where the Facebook account of Chong Chieng Jen is operating from.

He confirmed that the Facebook post with the title “礼轻情意重!民主行动党自掏腰包资助贫穷家庭…” appears as a post of the Chong Chieng Jen Facebook page.

When asked what is the coverage or extent of the publication of the defendant’s Facebook post at about 5.40pm on April 15, 2020, Rodney said he could not say the exact number but according to statista.com, there are over 24 million Facebook users in Malaysia.

He further told the Court that the privacy setting of the post had been set to ‘public’, so the post has the potential to reach these 24 million Facebook users in Malaysia.

When counsel asked about the defendant’s Facebook post’s reach beyond Malaysia, Rodney said because the privacy setting set to public, therefore the post also has the possibility to go beyond Malaysia as it can be accessed by anybody in the world.

When asked about a second Facebook post that was posted at about 7.27pm on April 18, 2020 with the title “[Admin B] PRESS STATEMENT” which appeared as a Facebook post of Chong Chieng Jen, he agreed it appeared on the Facebook page of Chong Chieng Jen.

However, he said he cannot give the exact number as to how extensive or widespread is reach of the said Facebook post but according to statista.com, there are more than 24 million Facebook users in Malaysia and he said there is possibility it can also reach beyond nationwide as it can be accessed by anybody anywhere in the world.

Rodney also tendered two documents as exhibits. One was a printout from statista.com which showed in 2020, there were 24.81 million Facebook users in Malaysia. The second document was a report based on an Internet user survey in 2020 by MCMC and published on MCMC’s official website, which showed 88.7 per cent of the Malaysian population are Internet users, that is about 28.7 million people.

Rodney also confirmed that Facebook posts set to ‘public’ can be shared on other social media platforms by anyone.

He explained Facebook posts set to ‘public’ is meant to be read, shared, reshared, and republished on other social media platforms and because of this the post can be accessed by those who do not have Facebook accounts as well as those who do not follow the defendant’s Facebook page.

During the cross-examination conducted by the counsel for the defendant, Michael Kong, Kong referred Rodney to the printout from the Department of Statistics Malaysia titled “Current Population Estimates, Malaysia, 2020” particularly the second heading which is “Population Size and Growth” and asked if Rodney agreed that there are 32.7 million Malaysians as at 2020. The witness replied ‘yes’.

Seen are members of Chong’s legal team (from left) Kong, Siew Chiang, Sim, and Brenda.

Kong further asked, that based on the document tendered by the witness which stated 88.7 per cent of the total population in Malaysia are Internet users, it would also mean that 29 million Malaysians out of the 32.7 million Malaysians have access to the Internet, and the witness said ‘yes’.

Kong also asked that based according to the document, there are 91.7 per cent of Internet users use the Facebook social network application, which also meant that 26.59 million Malaysians out of 29 million Malaysians with Internet access would be Facebook users. The witness agreed.

Kong then asked the witness to clarify which number is correct since there are two sets of data claiming to show the total number of Facebook users in Malaysia. The witness said based on the two sets of data, he would be inclined more toward the data from the Internet user survey which stated a higher number of Facebook users than statista.com.

He also said the report based on the Internet user survey which was done by MCMC is to give the view of the number of Facebook users in Malaysia because no one knows the exact number of Facebook users in Malaysia.

The witness agreed that based on the Internet User Survey 2020 report, the sample size for the said survey was only 2,401 Internet users and 284 non-Internet users for national data and he also said that sample size is the number of respondents for a survey.

Rodney also agreed that based on the report, only 17.2 per cent of contents shared online in Malaysia were related to political issues.

When questioned if throughout his career in MCMC, whether he had ever heard of any particular Facebook post that was able to reach all of the alleged 24 million Facebook users in Malaysia, he said not that he know of.

The witness also agreed that there is no tool to measure the total reach of the defendant’s first Facebook post but said it could be estimated based on statistics.

He also said that there is no document before the court to show that the first Facebook post of the defendant was reproduced on any other social media networks but he said the post was republished in anews portal, and this is one example showing that a Facebook post which has been set to public can be shared on other platforms.

He agreed that news portals are considered as social media network platforms because social media platforms will include some interaction with readers and news portals integrate social interactions in their websites where there are social media sharing buttons on their websites, and articles may be shared on various platforms which include Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp and email.

He disagreed that news agencies such as Borneo Post Online or DayakDaily is not the same as a social media network such as Facebook because they share some similarities such as the ability to share the article and some news portal even allowed commenting on their articles, so there are some elements of social interaction.

On April 21, 2020, Dr Sim commenced legal action against Chong and several State DAP leaders over alleged defamatory statements over the allocation of funds for food assistance amidst the Covid-19 crisis.

Dr Sim’s lawyer had issued a letter of demand dated April 30,2020 and the letter was served on Chong on May 2, demanding an apology from the latter and payment of damages to be made within seven days from the date of the letter or before May 7, 2020.

Since Dr Sim pursue the legal action over Chong’s comments, Chong had also instructed his counsels to also counter-claim and claim against Sim on several of his alleged defamatory statements against Chong.

Chong had alleged Dr Sim wrongfully took control of Covid-19 food aid allocations amounting to RM800,000 for four other constituencies.

Dr Sim was also claimed by the DAP leader to have taken control of the allocations for the constituencies of Padungan, Batu Lintang, Pending and Kota Sentosa with the total allocation of RM1 million for five constituencies.

Dr Sim is the Batu Kawah assemblyman while Chong is the assemblyman for Padungan.

Dr Sim was represented by counsels Shankar Ram Asnani, Russell Lim and Yiu Ying Ying whereas Chong was represented by counsels Chong Siew Chiang, Michael Kong, Brenda Chong and Sim Kiat Leng. — DayakDaily