Wising up to what’s real and what’s not

Malaysians love fake news, but a growing number are now checking their veracity. 

TO some people, fake news is like watching a World Wrestling Enter­tainment (WWE) bout.

The audience knows that the outlandish fight is fake (some call it staged or scripted), yet they are still enthralled because it is entertaining.

Who doesn’t find it entertaining when a referee slips a razor to a wrestler so that he can cut himself to make his performance a bit bloody?

It is the same with fake news.

There are people who love sharing fake news on WhatsApp because they think it makes an interesting read.

They don’t care whether the news is fake or authentic, they just share it as it is a juicy read.

The other day, Sungai Pelek assemblyman Ronnie Liu sent me a link to his blog, Patreon. The DAP politician called on Pakatan Har­apan leaders to set up a social media task force to counter all fake news and lies, as well as racist and inflammatory comments by the opposition.

“It is said that ‘a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth’. That is the power of perception due to the viral nature of fake news on social media,” he wrote.

My reply to Liu was: “One thing I’ve learnt about fake news is, for those who want to believe what they want to believe, no amount of truth can change their mind.

“Also when people are angry, it is easy to manipulate them with misinformation,” I added.

The reality on the ground is that after the euphoric and historical Pakatan win in the 14th General Election, the great expectations harboured by many Malaysians have not been fulfilled.

This includes the ever-ending saga of tolls – yet to be abolished – as well as the much argued prices of fuel.

For many, life remains the same or is perceived to be worse.

The rakyat (or as one university student protester mistakenly spelled on a placard, the “raykat”) are angry. An angry citizen can easily be manipulated with lies.We saw this happen to Barisan Nasional when the coalition was in power.

For those who hated Barisan, they readily accepted any fake news that went viral.

Now it is the Pakatan government’s turn to feel the heat.

On Thursday, Liu sent me a photograph of a Jack Ma story stamped “fake”. It was about the Chinese billionaire no longer trusting the Malaysian government.

I asked Liu how to prove that the story was fake.

He sent me a link to a CNBC story published on June 21 last year with the headline: “Jack Ma was inspired to create Alibaba by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Moha­mad”.

I have seen that fake story being shared in many of my WhatsApp groups.

Those who want to believe will believe the fake story. No amount of evidence can change the mind of those who think the Jack Ma story was not fake.

A Pakatan politician told me that former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is popular among certain segments of Malaysian society because they are disappointed with Pakatan.

“If Pakatan does things right, then Najib will be less popular,” he told me. I agree.

The “bossku” phenomenon is a manifestation of the rakyat’s frustration with Pakatan.

But kudos also to Najib as he has gone and meet the people and unwittingly rebranded his political career.

In his rounds, he wears a T-shirt featuring the famous “bossku” illustration of him straddling a motorcycle.

It is something Pakatan politicians used to be good at. But now that they are part of the government, some don’t seem to be able to do it anymore.

These Pakatan politicians were “champions” on social media, but now they are less efficient and effective.

“Now that PH is in power, many of its leaders seem to have forgotten how important social media and online media is for reaching out

to the masses,” wrote Liu on his blog.

“Granted, running a country or a state is difficult business that takes up a lot of time.

“It is understandable that PH leaders are preoccupied with righting many of the wrongs perpetuated by decades of BN rule (or should I say, “mis-rule”?).”

However, Liu added, that didn’t mean they should neglect the very media that allowed them to get their message to the rakyat in the first place.

I’ve spoken about fake news in journalism forums in Jakarta, Singapore, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City.

It is a trendy topic among journalists as the industry which publishes “real news” faces competition from “fake news”.

I’ve told them about my WWE theory to show that fake news is here to stay. They were amused with my analogy. I saw a few of them nodding their head in agreement.

I told them I liked fake news as it made the newspapers and online news portals relevant. When there is fake news, people will check its authenticity via credible news organisations.

The good news is that many have wised up to fake news. They are even cautious when receiving real news.

On Thursday when people were sharing the news that Sandakan MP Stephen Wong had passed away, some questioned if it was fake news.

It turned out to be true.

It is good that there are people who double-check news they get from WhatsApp with credible sources.

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