Aside from teaching us how to reduce human to human transfer of the coronavirus, the episode has taught us a serious lesson on the damaging effects of fake news.
Since the news broke, baseless messages were circulated that served in nothing more than inducing panic. Some contained information of alleged cases all over the country even before the lab could run the necessary tests! Photos of false news headlines were created using photo-generating websites like breakyourownnews.com, photos of incomplete medical reports were circulated, and scary videos of people allegedly dropping dead like flies surfaced too.
In this piece, I would like to try to provide useful tips on how to fact check.
- Ask – who produced the message/video/photo? Who is the creator? This question is different from “Who is the sender?” The sender is often someone we trust, but he or she might not have created the message/video/photo. If you cannot determine the answer to this question, disregard the content and do not forward.
- Check the date of the article. Some who are mischievous use old articles during the heat of present day topics to stir up emotions. Do not fall prey to it.
- Check that the website is legitimate. Does the URL correspond with the title of the page? Is the page owner transparent enough to provide contact information, a description in their ‘about us’ section, their vision and objectives? When read together, do all these information gel with one another. The rule is – the fewer the amount of information provided, the less transparent the owner of the website, the less credible is its content.
- Remember – sometimes, headlines are inaccurate. An example – not too long ago, a Malaysian news portal headline read that the Minister of International Trade allegedly refused to meet his Indian counterpart. The headline was then corrected to state that the Minister of International Trade did not to meet his Indian counterpart. This was because no meeting was planned. The first headline was of course very damaging to the Minister’s character.
- Read a few sources and read beyond the headlines. It serves as a fact-checking process. Whether or not a piece of news is true can be determined by the number of news sites reporting the issue. This is also to ensure you get a fuller, more accurate picture. An example, before the 2018 general election, the Malay Mail’s headlines reported that “Putrajaya achieved target of one million affordable homes” (https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2018/03/24/najib-putrajaya-achieved-target-of-one-million-affordable-homes/1606321). If one reads its contents, s/he will find that in fact, only 139,338 homes had been built at the time of said article and the others are at various stages of approval/construction. Reading this against other sources on the same issue, in this case, the Malaysian Insight, would confirm the number of homes built (https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/44805/)
- For viral information posted on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) – check the legitimacy of the page that posted the information. The same principle in point 3 above applies i.e. the fewer the amount of information provided, the less transparent the owner of the page, the less credible is its content. Look at their photos, bio, friends, and postings to determine whether the author is a reliable source.
- Follow official social media pages. These days, most pages can be verified by checking whether they have a blue badge with a tick beside the page name. See example https://www.facebook.com/michelle.ngmeisze/ . There is a stringent process that one must go through in order to obtain that badge. Some pages owners may choose not to go through that process. In these cases, again, the legitimacy of such pages is determined by the extent of transparency.
- Are there spelling errors, lots of ALL CAPS, or dramatic punctuation in the material you are reading?!?!?!If so, abort your reading mission. Reputable sources have high proofreading and grammatical standards.
- If the article/website is too outlandish, it may be satire. Research the author and website to be sure. An example – http://thetapirtimes.com/
I hope that these tips would assist Subangites in being wiser when consuming information. In these days, just because something is typewritten doesn’t mean it is official.