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Malaysia may prosecute WhatsApp group admins over fake news

Malaysia follows India as it looks to the popular messaging app to curb fake news.

Next time you write something on a group chat, make sure you're not spreading "alternative facts," otherwise you could land your friend in jail.

Brais Seara Fernandez, Getty Images

Being a WhatsApp group chat admin is getting riskier in Malaysia.

The country's government may use an existing law to investigate group admins at the popular messaging app if they fail to curb the distribution of fake news (factually incorrect or misleading information), said Johari Gilani, the country's deputy minister of Communications and Multimedia. This is particularly so if the "news" puts national security at risk.

However, a statement released by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said an admin and members of a group chat will be treated alike, so punishment may be meted out to anyone responsible for the spread of false information. It added that investigations will be carried out only if complaints have been received regarding content shared within the group.

Malaysia is following similar moves made by India, which last week threatened to put WhatsApp group admins in jail if they fail to kick out members who spread misinformation within the group. It also comes ahead of Malaysia's general elections, which are expected to take place between this year and next.

Gilani said the administrator of the offending group may be called in to assist investigations upon discovery of messages involving fake news. He added that the individual could face prosecution should he or she be proven to be directly involved in the offence.

Fake news has been a hot topic since the 2016 US presidential elections, with some alleging that fake news articles spreading through social media helped Donald Trump win the election. Experts last week warned French voters about the online dissemination of bogus news by dodgy accounts ahead of the French presidential elections.

WhatsApp did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comments.

First published April 28, 2:44 a.m. PT.

Update, May 1, 7:55 p.m.: Adds statement from MCMC

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