Response to the Responses of Suara Cicit Tunku Abdul Rahman
Writer: Sharyn Shufiyan
Published: Fri, 05 Oct 2012
Information moves quickly and swiftly in this age of technology for the masses.
With a click of a button, information travels between one person to the other, resulting in 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 10,000 people reading or watching the same thing as you had just now, before reading this. Information travels so quickly that it is almost impossible to trace the source unless you get an expert to do the digging for you but by the time you found one, 100,000 people might have seen your work or your face already.
But what’s more scary is how easily information can be altered as it is easily transferred.
Gone are the days when friction between the paper and eraser leaves visible marks on your paper or the ink of a pen slowly appearing over liquid paper.
Unlike writing on paper where traces of changes made is visible, the chain of custody for something off the internet is almost non-existent.
How often do we verify information on the internet before we take it as the truth?
Take for example the man who landed in hot water recently over claims that he had posted offensive comments on Islam. The man had denied making such comments and claimed that his Facebook account was hacked into.
Of course, hacked accounts are more than possible. How many of us have had our email or Twitter accounts hacked by advertisers?
In a highly regulated media environment, one can never be too careful of what one says or posts over social networks, or too lax about leaving accounts constantly logged in or cookies not cleared.
In 2009, I was interviewed by The Star for an article on being racially ambiguous along with others with mixed ancestry.
Because it was meant to be in the spirit of Merdeka, I was introduced as Tunku Abdul Rahman’s great granddaughter.
The article, titled “Race? What’s that?” came out on Aug 29. A few weeks later, my father emailed me a link to a blog called Anak Bangsa Malaysia which had posted my interview and re-titled, “Tunku Abdul Rahman’s great granddaughter speaks up.”
I thought, wow, people are sharing my thoughts. The week after that, my mother got an email alerting her about my interview being circulated in blogs.
As this person is a journalist, he asked for verification. He wrote to my mother, “I have tried tracking her down to verify the authenticity of the post but without success. The bloggers who posted it do not know where the original post came from but they insist that it is Sharyn’s post even though they do not know her.”
It was not long after that I found out that the online community was circulating an edited version of my interview.
I got quite a shock coming across postings from various blogs and online forums of my interview ending with the sentence, “Malaysians to lead - whatever their ethnic background. Only ONE NATIONALITY MALAYSIAN. No Malays, No Chinese, No Indians - ONLY MALAYSIANS. Choose whatever religion one is comfortable with. Remember it was Dr M & UMNO who destroyed Tunku’s Malaysia. MERDEKA MERDEKA MERDEKA.”
The source could not be traced but this sentence was a blogger’s own opinion which had been merged with mine. A responsible person however, would take the initiative to distinguish his or her own opinion from the rest of the copy before clicking ‘Publish’.
And hence began my journey of tracking down these postings and trying to rectify the problem. But what was I thinking? You can’t fight the internet so eventually I let it be and hoped that the authorities do not come knocking on my door slapping me with a libel suit.
Three years on, I was again shocked by Facebook postings of that same interview with that same ending but now with a fairly recent picture of me.
I managed to track the source to three different Facebook pages and again, engaged in damage control with the administrators.
As I’m writing this, the combined damage (not literal damage, but more like “what’s the damage, bro?”) was approximately 2,900 shares and 5,800 likes.
I thought, why don’t these people share my actual written work for a change? I have built quite a portfolio yet my column stats are pretty depressing!
Why did this piece emerge again? What made my views still appealing? If people read the original article, my critique on perceptions of race is not unique to what the other interviewees had said. Was it because I’m a Malay denouncing Bumiputera rights?
Paul Naquiddin Stewart Mohammad alluded to the same: “I think the Government should give equal rights to all. Regardless of what race we are, we are all Malaysian citizens and hence, we deserve equal rights.”
Was it because I was critical of the government? That’s not a new phenomenon. Was it then, because of who I am related to? Maybe it’s all of the above.
If I had not stated my relation with Tunku, would the interview piece still have gone viral? I had liked to believe that people had related to my views, not to whom I’m related to. But that’s wishful thinking isn’t it?
I was naive to think, that after 20 years of Tunku’s passing, the sudden appearance of his descendant; young, female, Malay and Muslim, would not garner any attention.
Of course, this is in no way trying to relegate the responses from readers as they were overwhelmingly supportive and encouraging, and surprise surprise, I made a lot of new friends both online and offline. But most importantly, I had deliberately offered critical views in the hope that it would spark a debate and to instigate a review of our perceptions on race and race relations in Malaysia.
Of course I couldn’t avoid the attack from turning onto myself; it is not surprising that criticisms of my views were mostly targeted on how I look and on my pedigree rather than on what I’m saying except for a few suggestions to read history (whose history I wonder?).
Nevertheless, it is inspiring to know that many more young people are switched on and are taking ownership of their country, engaging in debates with naysayers.
It is encouraging that so many people want change and are aspiring for change. And if I had played a role, even if it’s small, in igniting that spark, then that’s something that I had contributed within my own capacity towards a change that’s long overdue.
I was 24 when I did that interview. Now 27, I still stand by every word I said.
I may be a bit wiser that words can be taken out of context just by adding a few instigative lines.
I hope that people would also be wiser about sharing information, to understand that altering information, deliberately or otherwise, is not a small matter and carries serious implications.
Action does not come without intention, honest or selfish, and I would like to believe, in my case, it is the former rather than the latter.