Power of online petitions: Working collectively to inspire change

I was asked by The Star to comment on legal matters concerning online petitions. I said-

Fact or fiction?

However, it’s important to verify the validity of a petition before supporting it, as not all petitions are based on facts.

Foong Cheng Leong, Bar Council Information Technology and Cyber Laws Committee [former] deputy chairman, urges people to be more wary about the information presented in a petition before signing or sharing one online.

Like in any other online post, the text in petitions has to be carefully worded so that they do not defame or affect the livelihood of anyone adversely.

“Petitions can be defamatory. A petition usually starts with an introduction using background facts, which can be untrue,” he says.

According to Foong, online petitions are treated the same as website posts in the eyes of the law.

“Perhaps the slight difference is that the court is able to see how many people have reacted to the defamatory statements by looking at the petition numbers,” he adds.

Foong explains that online petitions have no effect on legal proceedings and that public opinion is not valid in court for ongoing cases.

“The court bases its decisions on facts and evidence, not on public opinion. Courts are cautious when dealing with public opinion as not to equate it with the public interest,” he says.

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Is it past time for Malaysia to establish its own official petition platform? Foong says it will be a good start, as it will allow issues to be raised with the government.

“In the olden days, people started petitions in the hope that the mainstream media would report it so that the relevant people would become aware of the issue,” he adds.

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In the meantime, Malaysians who want to create an online petition will still have to rely on third-party platforms.

Foong urges anyone wanting to post a petition to be careful about how they phrase their concerns.

“Like in any other online post, the text in petitions has to be carefully worded so that they do not defame or affect the livelihood of anyone adversely,” he says.

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