Meta and TikTok said on Wednesday they had seen a sharp increase in requests from the Malaysian government to remove content, as the country faces growing criticism over its crackdown on free speech and dissent.
Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said it received 1,029 requests from the Malaysian authorities to restrict or remove content in the first half of 2023, up from 191 in the second half of 2022. It complied with 93% of the requests, it said in its latest transparency report.
TikTok, the popular video-sharing app owned by China’s ByteDance, said it received 1,071 legal requests from Malaysia to remove or restrict content in the same period, up from 20 in the previous six months. It complied with 99% of the requests, according to its transparency report.
Both companies said the majority of the requests were related to national security, public order, or defamation of the government or public officials.
Malaysia has been under a state of emergency since January 2023, which the government said was necessary to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency, which suspended parliament and gave the government sweeping powers, ended in August 2023, but critics say the authorities have continued to stifle dissent and silence critics.
In October, Malaysia’s communications minister warned Meta and TikTok over alleged blocking of pro-Palestinian content on their platforms, saying it violated the country’s laws and could affect diplomatic ties. Meta said some of the take-downs were actually caused by a bug that was unrelated to the subject matter of the content.
Malaysia’s human rights commission, Suhakam, said in a statement on Wednesday that it was concerned about the “alarming” increase in requests to remove content, which it said could amount to censorship and infringe on the right to freedom of expression.
Suhakam urged the government to review its policies and practices, and to ensure that any restrictions on online content are necessary, proportionate and in accordance with international human rights standards.
Meta and TikTok said they respect the laws of the countries where they operate, but also defend the rights of their users to express themselves.
“We believe that transparency is a key component of accountability and trust, and we remain committed to protecting the privacy and safety of our community,” TikTok said in a statement.
Meta said it “pushes back” on government requests that are overly broad, vague or inconsistent with human rights standards.
“We will continue to advocate for the right of people to express themselves freely and safely on our platforms,” Meta said in a statement.