On Jan 21, the Washington Post reported that former US president Donald Trump made a total of 30,573 false or misleading claims during his tenure as president, or an average of 21 mistruths a day while in office. And the most repeated untruth was that he “built the greatest economy in the history of the world” — a phrase he uttered an impressive 493 times.
On Jan 23, it was reported that Sri Lanka’s health minister, who publicly consumed and endorsed a magic potion that apparently provides life-long protection from Covid-19, ended up testing positive for the virus. The ingredients in the potion were apparently honey and nutmeg.
Now, were both politicians ignorant, irresponsible or both?
Granted, we have all told little white lies. Adults lie, too. All around the world, adults tell children that Santa Claus is real.
I am bringing up this topic because, over the past few weeks, a couple of friends and I have been receiving unreliable news — or, rather, far more than usual — particularly through social media. The bulk of it was either unverified, a hoax or from fake websites.
For instance, I recently received from three people a list of hotels that had been purportedly identified as closed. A quick call to a couple of the hotels on the list revealed that the information was inaccurate.
A purported treatment for Covid-19, apart from drinking rasam as well as warm water — yes, we all know where we first heard that — now includes a new remedy that recently went viral: inhaling steam. Just the other day, a friend lamented that her 83-year-old mum felt it was safe to go to the wet market as she believed she could inhale steam to prevent a Covid-19 infection.
A Covid-19 “cure” that had been declared fake last July resurfaced last week: “Finally, an Indian student from Pondicherry university named Ramu found a home remedy for Covid-19, which is for the very first time accepted by [the World Health Organization].” The remedy? One tablespoon of black pepper powder, two tablespoons of honey and some ginger juice to be consumed for five consecutive days to suppress the effects of Covid-19.
Many of us probably saw or heard the news that health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah was about to tender his resignation. But before long, he tweeted to clarify that “This is another [piece of] fake news”.
The doctor told media practitioners that they were the “vaccine” needed to combat misinformation and disinformation related to Covid-19. “What’s important now is us trying to handle or vaccinate against fake news — where, to [debunk] viral fake news, we rely on our friends in the media. You are our vaccine, actually, with regard to fake news,” he said.
Even the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, recently highlighted his concerns over the increase and spread of fake news on social media, especially when used to slander.
It is not always easy to spot when something is fake, though. Sometimes, it’s just an exaggeration or half-truth.
The University of Iowa Library website, for example, says there are seven types of misinformation and disinformation. They are false connection, false context, manipulated content, satire or parody, misleading content, imposter content and fabricated content. Other websites even include clickbait, propaganda, sloppy journalism and biased or slanted news as types of fake news.
Interestingly, another study states that there is a strong link between “the fear of missing out” (FOMO) and the spread of fake news. It says, “It is an anxiety that grips individuals when they feel excluded from their social or peer group.”
Satire, however, is one type of “fake news” that most people enjoy reading and perhaps passing on to others, given that it is always tongue-in-cheek and mostly entertaining — although, admittedly, some segments of society cannot recognise satire even if it bites them in the bottom.
The Tapir Times, which describes itself as a silly work of satire and fiction, has always been a very entertaining read. But have you noticed that they have gone quiet? The link to the publication’s website (www.thetapir
times.com) leads to a page that says “This site cannot be reached” and its last update on Facebook appears to be on Jan 18. The site was started in 2012 as Fake Malaysia News and often made fun of local politics and politicians, who, generous to a fault, always ensured tonnes of fodder.
I bet they would have done a fantastic job with the confusion over Chinese New Year SOPs or the super short three-day quarantine period for Malaysian ministers returning from abroad compared with 10 to 14 days for mere mortals.