Both individuals and institutions find it difficult to clear themselves of false stories that have gone viral.
FAKE news that spread during the presidential election of the United States caught global attention last year. The fake news went viral and shocked the public.
US President Donald Trump’s victory was even regarded by some as the outcome of fake news.
Similar cases have also occurred in Malaysia.
Although the situation and magnitude of the cases are not comparable to those of the United States, they are enough to show the abuse of fake news on the Internet.
Many are unable to identify authentic news, and those with vested interests are exploiting the situation.
The creation and spread of fake news and hoaxes on the Internet are money-oriented, politically-oriented or linked to other hidden agendas.
Tracing back to the general election in 2013, when the Opposition was seen as capable of winning, fake news and photographs went viral on the Internet.
The ruling party was accused of importing 40,000 foreign workers from Bangladesh to be voters.
Many took it as genuine and even heeded the call made by non-governmental organisations on social media to “arrest” the phantom voters at polling stations.
Despite denials made by agencies such as the Election Commission, Immigration Department, police and National Registration Department, many voters still believed the fake news.
On polling day, voters who resembled foreign workers were cornered and questioned.
Many were unable to defend themselves in such a situation.
Although the “phantom voter arresting team” apologised later for wrongful identification, the incident proved that fake news could have a far-reaching impact.
Other fake news which went viral during the same election were a rumour that a power outage had occurred at a vote-counting centre for the Bentong parliamentary seat, as well as ‘reports’ that a suspicious ballot box had been sent to the centre.
Hence, the electoral result was seen as fabricated.
When Wong Tack, a candidate from an Opposition party, lost marginally to Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai of MCA under the ruling Barisan Nasional, rumours went viral on social media.
Although Opposition leaders came forward to clarify that there was no blackout at the counting centre and that a suspicious ballot box did not appear at the 11th hour to overturn the electoral result, many voters still believed the lights were switched off or some unseen transaction took place after the elections.
In the phone theft incident at the Low Yat Plaza digital mall in Kuala Lumpur, the version of events circulated on social media stated that “after the suspect bought the handphone, he realised that he was shortchanged and the dealer declined to change the handphone for him. Clash took place after that”.
Fanned by emotional postings, the incident almost turned into a racial conflict.
Gleneagles Hospital in Kuala Lumpur also fell victim to a fake news story that first appeared 11 years ago, alleging that staff members released a “toxic fragrance”.
Despite the hospital’s repeated clarifications, someone is still spreading the news until today. The hospital is helpless.
Fake news and rumours continue to dominate cyber space in Malaysia.
Early this year, an elderly Chinese woman was falsely accused of being part of a syndicate to kidnap children.
After investigation and verification by the print media, the woman was identified as a regular at a shopping mall who was close to some of the staff members in the shops.
As the newspapers reported the truth, the woman’s name was cleared.
However, the damage was done.
The elderly woman was afraid to go out. She shied away from people, remaining at home throughout the entire Chinese New Year.
At present, fake news and rumours on social media are still hot, prompting the Najib administration to set up a portal called sebenarnya.my to combat the problem, as the authorities and personalities involved are having a tough time debunking false stories.
At the end of the day, our readers or netizens should have a better understanding of the media.
Members of the public are unable to identify fake news, or do not know how to verify it.
To wipe out fake news, one should start with education.
As part of the media, Sin Chew Daily is also a victim of fake news and rumours.
The paper shares the same feeling with thousands of people affected by them.
Based on the urgency of the situation, we decided to start a special page called “seek the truth” on May 3 in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day to counter fake news.
Readers will be guided to identify false news.
We hope everyone will be responsible Internet users by not forwarding unconfirmed news from unidentified sources. Bring positive energy to society.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.