Are Malaysians too gullible for fake news?


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Are Malaysians too gullible for fake news?
By Zan Azlee

ONE big problem Malaysia currently faces is the tendency of its population to be gullible when it comes to news on the Internet. Without questioning the veracity of certain claims and announcements, it seems that anything resembling a news story — shared on social media and messaging apps — is swallowed wholesale.

Looking at how Whatsapp has become a popular platform to spread news, how many of you would receive all kinds of forwarded messages that could easily be dismissed as ridiculous rumours? I’m sure so many have, and speaking from experience, one can only imagine how vexing it must be.

And the worst part is that when you question the person who unwittingly forwarded the news – he or she would most probably respond like this: “I don’t know if it’s true or not. I received from someone else so I’m just forwarding it.”

As dubious information makes its rounds, we wonder why anyone would forward something that was not verified in the first place. Wouldn’t that make them a rumour monger and, if it is not true, someone who spreads lies? And the problem becomes even more compounded when the red herrings stir anger and hate.

While some may find Whatsapp to be an unreliable source of news, Facebook on the other hand appears to be more legit. And since articles appear of the Facebook feed, it would be easy to assume that “it must be true!”.

I don’t know how widespread this problem fake news is around the region or the world – perhaps the outcome of the recent U.S. election could be an indication. But in Malaysia, I have to say that it is indeed prevalent. Of course, news of the political and racist nature tend to be the norm, and every once in awhile, of celebrity deaths to, whether fake or not.

It would seem like Malaysians aren’t vigilant enough to separate fact from fiction. But I wouldn’t say it stems from gullibility. I think there is a very logical reason; Malaysians are just too desperate for honest and objective news that they become easily duped.

For the longest time, Malaysians were fed biased news by the government controlled news media, up until the advent of the Internet came and brought with it the proliferation of alternative news portals, offering more variety in the widened new media landscape.

The Internet quickly became a platform that offered Malaysians a different perspective that steered off the ruling government’s rosy narrative, with online news portals such as Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider and The Malay Mail Online becoming mainstream.

As the years went by, the people started looking at the online platform as the more reliable news source, no thanks to the fact that the most traditional news media never upped their game and continued to spew biased news.

However, this has conditioned the minds of many Malaysians to accept all online news as gospel truth. What’s forgotten is the reality that the Internet serves as a mere platform for the dissemination of news and that the authenticity of the information falls within the purview of a credible news organisation.

As a news consumer, one must be critical enough to be able to separate the truth from fables. It really isn’t that difficult.  With that said, there are a few indicators that can help a reader be more informed.

Check the language of the article that you are reading. If there is an unusual amount of typos and grammatical mistakes, then that would be a major signal that the news is less credible. A credible news organisation puts in extra effort and have full-time dedicated staff to ensure quality.

Check the URL, the Internet address of the site. A URL that has weird and unusual extensions and prefixes should set off alarms. A credible news site would at least try to have a either a .COM or .ORG in it’s official URL.

Cross reference the information that you read in an article you find online. Go to more established news sites such as the BBC, CNN, and AL Jazeera, among other household names to see whether they have also covered the same news. If not, then there must be something fishy with the article.

It may take a little more effort on the part of the readers to spot fake news as the copycats and masqueraders have become more proficient in propagating untruths. But a little more common sense goes a long way – don’t believe everything you read and see, even and especially when it is published online.

[This article was originally written for and published at AsianCorrespondent.com]

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