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TikTok on ‘high alert’ in Malaysia as tensions rise over election wrangle

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By Rozanna Latiff and Mei Mei Chu

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Short video platform TikTok said on Wednesday it was on high alert for content that violates its guidelines in Malaysia after authorities warned of a rise in ethnic tension on social media following an inconclusive general election.

Saturday’s election ended in an unprecedented hung parliament with neither of two rival alliances able to secure enough seats in parliament to form a government.

“We continue to be on high alert and will aggressively remove any violative content,” TikTok, which is owned by the China-based firm ByteDance, said in a statement.

TikTok said it had been in contact with Malaysian authorities on severe and repeat violations of its community guidelines since the lead-up to the election.

One of the alliances hoping to form a government is a conservative, largely ethnic Malay, Muslim group led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

It includes the Islamist party PAS, which has advocated for a strict interpretation of sharia Islamic religious law. Its electoral gains have raised concerns in a country with significant ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities, most of whom follow other faiths.

Veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim leads the other alliance vying for power, a group of more multi-ethnic, progressive parties that includes the Democratic Action Party, a predominantly ethnic Chinese party that has traditionally been unpopular with voters from the majority Malay community.

Social media users have reported numerous TikTok posts since the election that mentioned a riot in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, on May 13, 1969, in which about 200 people were killed, days after opposition parties supported by ethnic Chinese voters made inroads in an election.

TikTok said it had removed videos with May 13-related content that violated its community guidelines, saying it had “zero tolerance” for hate speech and violent extremism.

TikTok declined to reveal the number of posts it removed or the number of complaints it had received.

It told Reuters it would remove any accounts operated by users under the age of 13 after some parents complained that their children had been exposed to offensive content.

SULTANS TO MEET

Reuters reviewed about 100 videos on TikTok, some of which featured people displaying weapons such as knives and machetes. Some addressed “young Malay warriors” and said Anwar’s supporters should “remember the May 13 incident”.

In response, a flood of videos explaining the history of the May 13 violence have surfaced with many ethnic Malay users calling for unity and criticising those inciting violence.

Police told social media users to refrain from posting “provocative” content, saying they had detected posts that touched on race and religion, and insulted the monarchy.

The king has called for his fellow hereditary sultans to meet on Thursday to discuss who should be prime minister.

PAS issued a statement calling on all parties to respect the constitution, preserve public order and avoid provocation that could threaten harmony in the country.

Anwar said efforts to establish a responsible and stable government should not end in turmoil.

“I am concerned to see the racist sentiments and rhetoric that continue to be espoused by a few with desperate and vested interests,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Police said they were setting up 24-hour check-points on roads throughout the country to ensure public peace and safety.

Police also said they arrested a man in Selangor state near Kuala Lumpur for threatening the king in an Instagram post that referred to an unidentified ethnic group as “corruptors”.

Instagram did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff)

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