In the era of Information Communication Technology (ICT) convergence, media globalisation and Industrial Revolution 4.0 have brought tremendous changes to our lives, the media and information gateways. Back in 1993, we were introduced to weblogs with the beginning of the first browser of What’s New by Marc Andersen. Soon, the creation of weblogs expanded vigorously all over the world.
As we see today, there are thousands of new weblogs that are developed by countless bloggers in the cyber net, not only expressing their views but also sharing, feeding their firsthand information without any limitation. Needless to say, some are brave enough to even viral the details fast and furious without sparing a thought for a second whether it is absolutely true, a correct thing to do without causing any harm or dismay in the first place.
Due to the spread of news in a hurry without fact-checking, privacy and integrity are being neglected and jeapordised. Yes, there’s no doubt that people are hungry for the latest news, but never disseminate inaccurate information as you will pay the price when Malaysians begin to lose trust in the news or information disseminated on blogs or social media.
Viral video clips, juicy stories, gossips and sensational news attract and are tailored to the current needs of recipients and viewers of such content. It has become a trend for the receivers to forward and share these with family, friends or even chat groups. There is little empathy or no consideration is being taken into account for the involved parties on privacy issues, ethical rights or even any single thought of any possible outcome or pain that such further sharing can cause damage.
Emergence of the alternatives and social media
Weblogs are considered a new alternative media that compete with the mainstream media aided with viral substance from social media such as FB, Tweeter, WhatsApp and YouTube. The content carries different genres of interest such as politics, art and culture, social, law, religion, science and technology, education, economic, entertainment and others. In spite of that, some of the information lacks solid references, evidence or credible sources whereby the accuracy of the story can be questioned. Thus, these ‘rubbish’ stories contribute to the rising calamity of incorrect data, false information, confusion, doubt, panic and social disorder.
According to Associate Prof Dr Sara Chinnasamy, an active researcher from UiTM Shah Alam, WhatsApp is seen as a medium that has spread the most fake news after Facebook in Malaysia. Therefore, people should be alert and careful with the messages they receive and should verify them first before forwarding to others. Everyone holds the responsibility of circulating true, valid information.
Malaysians have to act responsibly and sensibly to avoid misinformation that can bring about public chaos. Be sure to check and validate messages on social networks like Twitter; only tweets containing true, firm, actual details on any incident should be disseminated. YouTube will only show genuine video clips; and Facebook puts a label on its posts, confirming them as valid. This is to ensure that the public deserves the right to know only credible, reliable and true information instead of fake, slander or distorted data that is shared inconsiderately.
Human factor - FOMO
Knowing that year 2020 is the world of big data, everyone can gain access to information with Internet connection and bandwidth as there are no more boundaries. There are people who are too engrossed in the social network and end up with social addiction. Gripped by the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), they become too engrossed with their smart phones and become paranoid of constant browsing, checking on every single update in their social media accounts such as FB feed, Twitter thread, Instagram (IG) photos of the people they follow on IG.
Along with this comes the sick activity of people gearing up like Speedy Gonzales in spreading, sharing, forwarding or copying the content of hot stories, or controversial video clips and viral it out across numerous social media platforms just for pleasure or to seek attention and get a high number of likes, shares and comments.
Bizarre as it may seem, there are individuals who like to read, harass, critic and view any unverified video, bad review, rumour, negative story or scandal that comes from unofficial sources that create huge misunderstandings, speculations and feuds that not only affect relationship among people or reputation of organisations but also tarnish the image of individuals.
Here is where the toxic consequences set in, subjecting people to being misled, make unfair judgment, end up with emotional abuse, mental depression and suicide.
Due to the spread of false information, the government is faced with the burden of tackling the critical mess and preventing the spread of fake news from getting out of hand. Consequently, the authorities have to bear the repercussions by clarifying to the public the misinformation spread across social media. Now, spreading false information is a brainless act as it not only causes a miserable feeling of stress and is troublesome but also deceives every Malaysian. It also affects unity and security, thus raising a huge threat to the whole nation.
Strive together against misinformation
The people have a choice of where they can gain information – either from the mainstream media or the alternative channels. It is not wrong to read blogs but we must be wise and careful in choosing or distinguishing between concrete facts or false news. Besides, blogs lack the function of gatekeepers and editors to do the fact checking, thus neglecting the responsibility of delivering true, accurate information for public enlightenment. What can be worse is the content being spread rapidly like wildfire on sensitive issues such as racism or statements from someone that can be libellous or slanderous. These not only infuse hatred against the government but also affect the peace and harmony in the country. Indeed, a good nation is built from a well-informed society.
As a profound, sensible citizen, always make sure the information in the group comes only from legitimate sources such as government agencies, ministries, authorised news portals and mainstream media outlets. This promotes ethicality, credibility and authenticity of information.
It is imperative for all government agencies to monitor any false information on their respective departments. Action speaks louder than words. Post denials and put ‘false labelling’ on any fake news as an immediate action in all social media platforms so that they reach the public at once. This is to not only avoid confusion or unpleasant feelings but also to combat misinformation and stop the spread of such information in the society.
Stringent regulations for perpetrators of false news
The increasing circulation of fake news is terrifying and causing a huge annoyance to the public. The Malaysian government, authorities and National Security Council (MKN) have imposed stringent regulations to combat and curb the spreading of fake news. This is to avoid anxiety, mishaps, social disturbances or greater complications from happening in the midst of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Any offender who is caught for forwarding, spreading, circulating or sharing false news can be charged under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 which provides for a maximum fine of RM50,000 or imprisonment of up to one year, or both, and a further fine of RM1,000 for each day the offence is continued after conviction. Malaysians have to be mindful of what they write. They should avoid spreading or sharing false information as this can cause panic attacks, social threats and a state of uncertainty in society. As a matter of fact, it is not a joke to play or fool around with human emotions and feelings, creating dreadful turmoil affecting public serenity due to the false news and fabricated information.
Utilise the one-stop centre for fact checking – portal sebenarnya.my
Make sure you go to websites like APFactCheck and Full Facts that often focus on exposing fake news. You can also use search engines to search for articles to check whether they have been identified as fake news by the mainstream media. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the spreading of fake news is more alarming today through information-sharing. Don’t be a foolish person, be a responsible and vigilant citizen. Remember to get your facts right and accurate before you share. There are ways to check the facts. Go to sebenarnya.my which acts as a hub for Malaysians to check and verify sources of information before sharing.
The battle against fake news is a never ending one and it happens everywhere. There will always be an idiot with itchy hands to share misinformation without any feeling of guilt, just to fulfill their self-esteem and simply to occupy their time by playing a cruel prank. Do spare a thought. Will spreading false information bring greater benefits or misfits? Here again, Malaysians have to be cautious. Always retrieve information from reliable and trusted sources. Don’t go around viralling false information. Remember, look before you leap. It is never too late to change the attitude of FOMO, obsession of sharing and spreading false news. Hence, it goes with the trending campaign “Tidak Pasti Jangan Kongsi” (Do not share if unsure). The power of spreading fact or fake is in our hands, through the use of our gadgets, mobile phones, Internet, technologies. Sharing without responsibility is insanity. This is a serious matter as people can be influenced like a bullet shot to the brain in a split second into believing the messages, rumours, radical content or even doubtful information being shared without even checking or thinking.
Norazlinda Mohammad is a lecturer at the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies at UiTM Lendu, Alor Gajah Melaka campus.
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