Commentary Local

Fake news as old as news itself – and that’s going back thousands of years

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Written by Aziz Hassan

May 8, 2017.

Recollections & Reflections – A weekly column

FOR so long it was often referred to as something else but thanks to US president Donald Trump, it is as if suddenly the whole has only realised that there is such a thing as fake news, which is what it is.

By all accounts, fake news isn’t a recent phenomenon.

But when it used to be spread mainly by word of mouth for as long as you can remember, it has been since recent years spread within minutes or even seconds to every corner of the earth through social media, made possible by Internet connectivity.

Into this disease you can include simple and straightforward reports, some with or without photos, videos and doctored photos and visuals. No one or nothing is spared, with everything left entirely in the hands of the source who wants to spread it.

There is also nothing to stop the gullible amongst us from then spreading it via chat groups.

Some are so ridiculous and outrageous that you wonder how people can fall for the tricks and worse, help spread them. The worst is when it hurts people.

Amongst Malaysian Muslims, stories that glorify Islam, like how a person is miraculously cured of a once hopeless medical condition by simple prayers alone are a favourite. Also popular are so-called statements declaring a popular product or food by a non-Muslim manufacturer as non-halal.

Is there any way a lay person can avoid getting entangled with fake news?

There are a couple of very simple ways. First is to apply common-sense and secondly is to look closely at the source of the story.

The best advice would be to place your trust in established news sources – newspapers, television stations and international news outlets. If it’s not in or on any of these, most likely it’s false.

Another good source of reference is to do a Google search but even something as simple as this unfortunately appears to be a burden or a chore to a lot of people.

As a reaction to this issue, Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Jailani Johari has warned everyone to stop being involved with this practice, especially regarding fake advertisements, additionally asking people to report to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

Why wait for a report? The commission should be on its toes and act the minute it sees one of these fake stuff the way Google has done by dumping 200 fake sites off its advertising network.

Unless Malaysians see tough action being taken, many are unlikely to take these warnings seriously.

Again, it’s the conviction that counts

It’s most heartening to know that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is making further moves to enhance the fight against corruption.

To drive home the point about how serious the agency is in fulfilling its responsibilities, chief commissioner Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad said this: “People want us to arrest a Tan Sri, we got a Tan Sri. They want us to probe a Datuk Seri, we got one.”

Point taken but while most of the ones under this category have been charged, it’s very early days yet. The tan sri is out on bail and hasn’t been charged, which suggests that there are gaps to be filled by the investigators. We still don’t know if there is a case against him.

It’s also true that some senior officials have been found guilty and now find themselves in the slammer but just as many, if not more, have also been acquitted.

The point to note is that an arrest or being charged in court means very little. The success story is in the conviction.

We are reminded again of the big hoo-haa over the arrests of more than a dozen senior Customs officers a few years ago, the ones who had the charges against them withdrawn en bloc without any explanation to the public.

Then there was the case against a senior state Forestry director about five years ago which seemed to have conveniently vanished after he had made only one appearance in court.

Word has it that since then, he’s been enjoying his golf in the company of a VVIP.

 

 

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.