IN the Malay culture, we use the term “mengata” when we talk bad about somebody else. We could also use the term “mengumpat” or “mencaci”.

There is no direct translation in English though the word “gossip” or “bad-mouthing” could come close. The English word for it could also be “vituperation”.

It basically amounts to talking behind somebody’s back to bring disrepute or to smear someone else.

As society evolves, the medium that is used to “mengata” has also evolved.

People used to get “surat layang” or poison pen letters but now it has gone on the Internet, and lately, on social media to spread far and wide.

My bosses used to receive such poison pen letters from their irate staff (I assume) by post.

We don’t get these any more as anyone can set up a blog or anonymous email to hit out at others.

The proliferation of smartphones and the growing popularity of sharing apps are making it easier to mengata without even disclosing the source.

The rise of social media is both good and bad, the latter especially when people abuse new technology to disseminate fake news and to mengata others.

Malaysians are very social now. There are 25.08 million Internet users in Malaysia out of a total population of 31.83 million.

There are 24 million active social media users, or 7.5 out of every 10 Malaysians. Almost all of them are active mobile users, using their smartphones to consume social media.

Nearly 90 per cent of adult Malaysians use smartphones.

No doubt, the May 9 general election has been dubbed a social media election where opinions will be swayed by what voters read or view on social media.

The WhatsApp or Telegram groups are closed communities and it is harder for campaigners on both sides to judge what content is trending.

Again, some of those content shared is not necessarily accurate. But the coming into force of the anti-fake news law makes people think twice before sharing.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has expressed concerns that there are quarters which are hammering the government on social media.

He described the critics as people who have nothing substantial to say and who are only fond of maligning others.

Modal tak ada. Sedap mengata orang je.

Mengata nombor satu. Tambah dosa. Lagi tua lagi banyak mengata.

(They have no substance. They only like to malign others.

They are adding to their sins. The older they get, the more they do it.)

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