A Lesson On Fake News In Malaysia

STUDENT activism in Malaysia peaked in December 1974, having started in September of the same year in Tasek Utara, Johor Bahru, when some 5,000 students demonstrated at the Selangor Club Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) and as expected, clashed with the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU).

As a result, the students retreated to Masjid Negara with the FRU hot on their heels.  The demonstration was culled and 1,128 students arrested. The student leaders who were holed up on the University of Malaya campus were soon arrested and so were those who hid inside their rented rooms in nearby Kampung Kerinchi.

Three representatives of Kampung Kerinchi complained that the FRU had taken harsh measures to apprehend the students by firing tear gas and that had resulted in the death of a baby.

My father immediately summoned his then deputy, the late Tan Sri Mahmood Yunus, and then Director of Special Branch, the late (Tan Sri) Mohamed Amin Osman, and asked them if the FRU had indeed fired tear gas into Kampung Kerinchi. Amin was adamant the FRU did nothing as such.

When asked if he (Amin) had checked the allegations himself and also the report received from the FRU troop leader, Amin said no.  So my father instructed Amin to go to Kampung Kerinchi to check himself.

Celaka! Depa tipu saya!” (“Hell! They lied to me!”) exclaimed Amin when he saw the empty tear gas canisters that littered the lanes of Kampung Kerinchi, to which my father replied, “You fell for it because you did not check the information yourself!

Fake news is a neologism that has entered the lexicon, used to collectively describe rumours, hoaxes, misinformation, propaganda and recycling of old rumours that had been debunked, that mislead people into believing that they are current and true.

Fake news caused the Barisan Nasional to lose its long-held two-thirds majority in 2008 because it was complacent and not quick enough to react and dispel these rumours.  Back then, political discussions and dissemination of fake news or propaganda occurred in chat rooms, in SMS, and blogs which were only a handful then.  Now there is Facebook, Twitter, Line, Telegram, WhatsApp, YouTube over and above the media available almost ten years ago.

Claire Wardle, Executive Director of First Draft a non-profit organisation dedicated to finding solutions to the challenges associated with trust and truth in the digital age housed at the Shorenstein Centre on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, categorised mis and disinformation into seven types:

Satire or parody – this type of misinformation has no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool. A good example of this is of a message purportedly sent by a passenger of the MH370 who said he managed to hide his iPhone5 up his anus!  This had been debunked as a prank, but there are those who still believe that the person did manage to shove a five-inch by two-inch phone up his anus without any problem on the island of Diego Garcia.

Misleading content – most recent would be issues tweeted by two artistes that evolve around the rising cost of living, the weakening ringgit, a shambolic economy, designed to rile up anger in their followers. The tweets, not backed by published facts and figures, would do damage to those who have no inclination to check for the truth and to retweet or forward to others.

Imposter content – these are usually propaganda designed to use genuine sources but impersonated as theirs. A simple example would be of Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s recent event officiating the opening of the Rawang-Serendah Bypass, eight days after the bypass was opened by a minister.

Fabricated content – this type of content is 100 per cent false and is designed to deceive and cause harm. If you remember in July 2007, PKR’s Tian Chua admitted that he had fabricated a photo to show that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was together with Abdul Razak Baginda and now dead Mongolian-model Altantuya Shaaribu in Paris.

False connection – this is when headlines, visuals and captions do not support the content. The most famous example from recent times was of The Star’s headline that said “Malaysian Terrorist Leader” while having a huge photo of Muslims praying during the first night of Ramadan. Although The Star apologised for the error, it was not the first time it had made a similar mistake.

False context – this is when genuine content is shared with false contextual information. Artiste Fathia Latiff put up a screen capture of the price of fuel in various OPEC countries on Twitter, asking why Malaysia, as an oil producing country, charges very high for petrol?  The screen capture is of oil prices back in 2014. The average value of fuel prices for Malaysia between September 4, 2017 and December 11, 2017, was RM2.23. For comparison, the average price of petrol in the world for this period was RM5.82!

Manipulated content – this is when genuine information or image is manipulated to deceive. Recently, there was a video of a skinny polar bear with muscle atrophy struggling to find food in a snowless land that was made viral. This was attributed to global warming. However, the video was filmed in August when the tundra was snowless. It was only published in December.  Even the indigenous community living in the area thought it was a stunt to raise more funds and was doing a disservice to the war against climate change.

I don’t know why Malaysians are so gullible and eager to share fake news.

In WhatsApp groups, you can see how some people could post about something religious and then help spread fake news – something totally against religions. Nowadays, this fake news comes with a disclaimer – “Dari group sebelah”.

Every time we forward or share a post without double-checking or verifying, we add to the noise and confusion.  We never consider the source, we never consider the supporting sources and worst of all, we never check our biases.

The late Tan Sri Amin learnt this the hard way.

Having seen that he was misled about the FRU not firing tear gas into Kampung Kerinchi, he went on to check about the claims of a baby that had died as a result of the tear gas.  None of the three village representatives had themselves seen the dead baby and no one had actually reported to them of the death.

When asked where the information had come from, they replied, “From Anwar Ibrahim and the other student leaders!”

It seems that nothing has changed since 1974.

(This article was first published on The Mole)

Moving On

When the late Tun Razak saw a swimming pool at a friend’s house, he thought he should have one constructed at his official residence, Seri Taman, located on Venning Road (now the Tun Razak Memorial on Jalan Perdana). He asked his friend how much did it cost to get it built and was told something to the region of RM26,000, well within his budget. Since the “Seri Taman” belonged to the government, he had to go through the Public Works Department, more known here as the JKR (Jabatan Kerja Raya). He gave the JKR the contractor’s details for them to get a quote.

When the JKR came back with the quote, he had the shock of his life: in excess of RM100,000! He immediately told them to get another quote. The final quote was at RM56,000. Still higher than the quote he received directly from the contractor. He never got the swimming pool built. As the Prime Minister, he could easily have asked the JKR to pick up the tab, but as a man with integrity, he did not.

The late Tun was very careful when it came to spending money, personal and the government’s. He did not come from a rich family and was always aware of his origin. What the story above tells us is that when one mentions corruption and kickbacks in the government, one should be able to distinguish between the government machinery and the political party that forms the executive branch of the government. It also tells that although he was the Prime Minister, he did not abuse his position, something not many politicians let alone Ministers can brag about nowadays.

While the Barisan Nasional has formed the Federal government and in all but three states, it has failed to wrestle Selangor and Kelantan from the clutches of the Pakatan Rakyat. This despite the feel good reports that were given to the so-called BN War Room by the respective state’s BN leadership. For some weird reason, BN has fallen yet again to feel-good reports as it did in 2008. This is actually as bad as the one in 2008. Factions in Selangor and Perak were not checked, candidates were put based on how well they can talk (and in the case of Shah Alam, what the person has on Anwar Ibrahim) rather than what the ground feels like or prefer. Some were moved from where they were strongly supported, to a seat that they are not familiar with, or voters not being familiar with them (as in the case of the former DUN Anggerik assemblyman being contested at DUN Batu Tiga and lost). In that sense, Selangor BN lost twice: the seat contested, and the seat it held previously, in a classic case of Pakatan Rakyat killing two birds with one stone.

The Pakatan Rakyat had had a good running in the cyberworld; they made full use of blogs and SMS in 2008, and then Facebook and YouTube for 2013. BN, with the various internet media units was never able to keep up with the allegations thrown. There was no strategy employed by the BN team. UMNO in particular, had groups of bloggers reporting to various people. It is no guess what these people they reported to wanted, other than the recognition by Najib. Pakatan had one strategic director: all came from him. Some would blog allegations (offensive), while the rest would be on the defensive; all structured and “think” in unison.

BN’s on the other hand had everyone on both the offensive and the defensive. When one person blogs about an issue, everyone else jumps into the bandwagon either re-writing and re-phrasing the first blog, or outright Copy and Paste, or the lazy ones would just have a catchy headline and paste the URL of other blogs to read about the issue.

But never do I see people answering to allegations made by the Pakatan bloggers save for some who are not part of the BN cyberwarriors’ teams! I blame this on the “strategists” these BN cybertroopers report to, and also their lack of knowledge on institutional memory as well as current affairs. Not one person from the BN cyber units dared engage people on the issue of Budget Deficit, Economics, History, Law, Constitution etc. Most are contented with ridiculing Pakatan and their figureheads while fighting for ratings using scandalous headlines and sometimes even add scandals of artistes in their blogs just to keep their ratings up!

In short, BN failed to manage the perception of voters, especially the younger ones by not fully utilising the world wide web. No one wrote about how BR1M for example is good, not as a political tool, but in spurring economic activities. All I see written about BR1M is it is a gift from BN and the rakyat should appreciate it. Well, they should put themselves in the shoes of the voters: the voters turned and said it is their money anyhow so why is BR1M a gift?

The other reason of course is the Chinese swing (since they cannot accept the term “Tsunami”). For the past three elections it took me less than twenty minutes from parking my car at 9am, to casting my votes, to starting my car again. This time around, it took me more than two hours! And all around me were faces of Chinese people I never knew lived in my neighbourhood! Let us face the fact that the Chinese have found a bargaining chip in the Pakatan Rakyat. I think Annie’s summed it up real good.

Having won five states in 2008 which we all know was beyond the expectation of the then Barisan Alternatif, the Pakatan Rakyat representatives went on a spree of ceramahs virtually every night since March 2008 until the 2013 elections. This is because they were not sure of repeating the same success, and had to win the perception of the people. And it is probably because of that they did not focus so much on work, but rather on roadshows. Penang, while managed to reduce its debt, saw a substantial increase in deficit, and decrease in investment (BN/UMNO cybertroopers, please learn here):

20130520-171822.jpg

20130520-171911.jpg

All the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled states have formed their respective government which means that all have accepted the results of the GE13, save for Anwar Ibrahim and his band of “boys” who still harp on the fact that the Pakatan Rakyat had won the popular votes. Well, that may be true but this is not a reality show. The formation of the government follows a set of law – the one with the most electoral votes forms the government!

20130520-173449.jpg

Else, would the Pakatan Rakyat want to concede defeat to a government formed by UMNO alone? UMNO as an individual party won 29.3% of the popular votes, and on its own won 88 electoral votes! DAP came in second very far behind with only 15.7% popular votes and only 38 seats! Maybe Anwar would like to see an UMNO-DAP coalition government instead! How much did PKR get?

Remember, in Malaysia, Parliament is not paramount; it is the Constitution that makes Parliament! Therefore, respect the Constitution and move on, or find another country that employs popular votes to live in!