EDITORIAL: Unhealthy Habit of Speculating on the Rise in the Community

PEOPLE have picked up a strange habit these days. When something happens in their community their first reaction is to believe everything they hear or read in their messages on the mobile phone. They immediately forward the messages or information without first verifying if it is true, false or perhaps sensationalised to make it all the more exciting to read.

Unverified information we receive via text messages especially on crime, accidents or domestic disputes are the highest on the list prone to be sensationalised and speculated because they are considered “juicy” and exciting. But have we paused to think whether the information we received is true or perhaps slanted before we forward it out?

On the upside, it is good to see many people out there are actively sharing incidences or happenings in real time on social media. On the downside, most of the same people do not possess the skills to verify what they see or hear before sharing it out. What do we get as a result of this? We get information that’s hearsay and gossips or rumours that cannot be verified. Information lands up getting distorted and may not reflect what’s really happening; personal and private information is shared without any regard for the privacy of the victims and photographs of victims lying helpless on the road (in motor vehicular accidents) are splashed all over social media.

I come from old school journalism. My editors taught me to verify my information before sharing even a word to the public. I go through 5Ws and 1H – Who? What? Where? When? Why? & How? when I write my reports. With the advent of social media these basic principles of reporting continue to be my guiding light when writing.  There is no shortcut for this. So excuse me if I may appear to be a little “slower” than others in reporting an incident. That’s because I am verifying my information and double-checking all my facts before I upload it for public consumption. Speed kills especially if you disseminate misinformation that leads to speculation which in turn creates panic.

One of the other downside of social media is the fact that people only read what they want to see. They read but they do not see what is actually written. Somehow their own preconceived perception of the topic clouds their ability to read what has been written. A case in point is a reader accusing SJEcho of claiming that a recent announcement of cashless parking was the first in Subang Jaya. I was shocked! I knew I did not claim that it was the first but I double checked my copy anyway; only to find that I didn’t claim it was the first. The reader saw “the first” but until today I haven’t any idea where he read it as he has gone silent on my query of his accusation.

Speculation is akin to gambling. You risk being right and you also risk being wrong. If it turns out wrong, it can fan panic and disgruntlement. It causes unnecessary stress to victims of accidents, attempted suicides or crime because the information provided is inaccurate. We should stop this bad habit before it manifests itself in a bigger problem.

We are at the second last month of the year. It’s time to reassess the year that was in 2019 and quickly catch up on what needs to be achieved before December 31. Soon, Christmas decorations will be up in shopping malls; Christmas carols will be playing and everyone’s packing up to go for their yearend holidays.

Happy November everyone! Let’s plan for the yearend and not speculate what will come next.