Updates to the Malaysian Internet Censorship Test List

Removal of defunct websites and improved coverage of Citizen Lab Test Lists for Malaysia

MCMC Block Noticiation

Citizen Test Lab global and country test lists together Open Observatory of Network Interference, has been key to testing and confirming websites that are blocked in Malaysia.  Malaysia has been through multiple major political events, from the first official political censorship of news media and coverage around 1MDB corruption scandal in 2015, to election of a new moderate government, and then political defections to create the present coalition of government, made up of old guard conservatives and Islamist party. This research project provides much needed updates reflecting the new political and cultural landscape,  as well as a clean up of sites that are no longer active or defunct.

Testing for Internet Censorship is made easier these days with numerous easy-to-use tools available out there. One of the tools is a software probe from Open Observatory of Network Interference software project. The project is free and open source and participation and/or contributions are welcomed. Since 2017, Sinar Project has started the Human Rights Internet Censorship Dashboard project to provide an online dashboard service that shows the current and past Internet censorship state of News Media, Political Criticism, Religion, Sex Education and Social Networks for select Southeast Asian countries with censorship measurement data backed from Open Observatory for Network Interference (OONI) API. This project aims to address the immediate need for easy-to-read dashboards so more users in this region such as journalists, civil society organizations and activists can easily make use of censorship measurements to support their work, and for the public to be aware of increasing Internet censorship.

The project tests for Internet censorship through the use of regional test lists provided by the CitizenLab, a company with a mission to provide a digital participation platform to increase community engagement in local governments’ decision-making. The test list consists of a wide range of internationally relevant and popular websites, including sites with content that is perceived to be provocative or objectionable that may or may not be subjected to Internet censorship. Besides being used by the probe, we at Sinar Project also utilize the list to fetch reports from OONI to be displayed on our Internet Censorship Dashboard.

The current test list for Malaysia is due for an update to remove outdated addresses which could negatively affect the quality of collected measurements and to avoid wasting resources of testers on the ground. With the support from Netalitica, beginning in January 2021 we have proposed the removal of 155 addresses (out of the current 489 websites in the list) due to inactivity and/or they went offline. Most of them were not blocked in prior. Some notable examples are the numerous mirrors for Sarawak Reports, that were created before the 14th General Elections in 2018, as listed below

While the website got unblocked after the elections, these sites were already removed when we revisited them.

208 entries with HTTP address got updated to HTTPS as well. Also, there are 50 websites/web pages moved to new URLs, most of them got redirected automatically but some of them required some manual search through the search engine or through the updated version of the website.

There are quite a number of new additions to the list (65 new addresses), with a focus on complementing the current list with popular or prominent websites for the local Chinese community that were previously under-represented. For example, 

Some of these URLs were contributed by Mr. Lee Wai Hong

Notable additions include those whose owners or stakeholders were featured in news.

Content Farms

While not a focus of the update, there are quite a number of content farms operating in Malaysia. A quick search yields the following list (which is by no means complete)

This is rather worrying, considering they could be used to spread misinformation, as shown in this report by The Reporter (Taiwan)  . After doing some quick digging, we found some of them are sharing a common certificate, or residing on the same server, so some of them are likely to share the same owner. Further research may be conducted in this area.

Not all the aforementioned content farm made it into the final list though, and the same applies to other categories of website. For the full list of websites that we considered adding to the list, please check the URL: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xSym61ZIFARLGVduutsPcb-bG4dRgY9gSbuc5HG3oSY/edit?usp=sharing 

With the increasing reliance on instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp, a lot of traditional websites were moving towards these platforms, hence not covered by the test list. For example, these include telegram groups or channels (or a list of them) for file and media sharing,

Sugarbook

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Since it began its operation, the online dating website Sugarbook garnered quite some attention from the authorities. Recently, the authorities condemned the company  for a list of universities ranked by the number of registered users as “sugar babies” published by the company after it gained much attention from the public. 

The company’s website was then promptly blocked, but the company responded by setting up an alternative website and issued a notice to their users with instruction to circumvent the censorship. Both of these websites were submitted to be included in the monitoring test list.

Feedback and Contributions

This is an ongoing project.  Any feedback on the updated list or suggestions are welcomed and can be emailed to [email protected] You can contribute to the testing data by installing the OONI probe application on your desktop and/or mobile devices.

Current test list for Malaysia:
https://github.com/citizenlab/test-lists

Updated test list for Malaysia (as at 23 February 2021):
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1IZ1LYx7seWnNJORp41b4Q2QtxFGsYvP4ayKJaF9H5ag/edit?usp=sharing

Acknowledgements

This research in partnership and with the support of Netalitica.