Malaysia said Friday it would take legal action against Facebook parent company Meta for failing to remove “undesirable” posts, the strongest measure the country has taken to date over such content.
Last year’s closely fought national election has led to a rise in ethnic tensions, and since coming to power in November, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s administration has vowed to curb what it calls provocative posts that touch on race and religion.
Facebook (FB) has recently been “plagued by” a significant volume of undesirable content relating to race, royalty, religion, defamation, impersonation, online gambling and scam advertisements, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said in a statement.
It also said Meta had failed to take sufficient action despite the body’s repeated requests and that legal action was necessary to promote accountability for cybersecurity and protect consumers.
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The commission also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what legal action might be taken.
Race and religion are thorny issues in Malaysia, which has a majority of Muslim ethnic Malays alongside significant ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities.
Commentary on the country’s revered royals is also a sensitive issue, and negative remarks toward them can be tried under sedition laws.
The action against Facebook comes just weeks ahead of regional elections in six states that are expected to pit Anwar’s multi-ethnic coalition against a conservative Malay Muslim alliance.
Facebook is Malaysia’s biggest social media platform, with an estimated 60% of its population of 33 million having a registered account.
Globally, big social media firms that include Meta, Google’s (GOOGL) YouTube, and TikTok are often under regulatory scrutiny over content posted on their platforms.
Some Southeast Asian governments have frequently requested that content be taken down.
In 2020, Vietnam threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it did not bow to government pressure to censor more local political content on its platform. The authorities said last year that social media platforms operating in Vietnam removed more than 3,200 posts and videos in the first quarter that contained false information and violated the country’s law.
In Indonesia in 2019, Facebook took down hundreds of local accounts, pages and groups linked to a fake news syndicate.