Tackling the Fake News Pandemic

Covid-19 has left a devastating impact on our lives, the economy and our psychosocial wellbeing. The growing number of deaths is also triggering extreme fear and anxiety but above this, there’s a worrying trend that’s causing us all a great deal of mental stress – the spread of fake news and information on Covid-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO) categorises this as a dangerous ‘infodemic’. Infodemics are defined as excessive information about an issue, which makes it difficult to find a solution. They are spread through misinformation, disinformation and rumours during a health emergency and can hamper public health responses by creating confusion and distrust.

The problem is not unique to Malaysia. It’s a global issue but sadly, many failed to realise the trail of negative impacts left by that little fake WhatsApp message or social media post that we have decided to share.

People generally fall for well-crafted messages that supposedly carry statements from credible government or news agencies and we would share them within seconds after reading a ‘clickbaity’ headline or paragraph.

Dean and Senior Lecturer of Faculty of Communications and Creative Design, Associate Professor Dr. Mohammad Firdaus Low Abdullah said users must extra cautious when it comes to content sharing, especially in times of crisis.

“If there are variations to the news which some may find shocking or annoying, the recipients must cross-check all information because fake news is generally sensationalised to attract attention,” said Dr. Firdaus.

He added that misinformation and disinformation during a crisis like Covid-19 are meant to confuse, manipulate and divide society. This affects many people and creates false perceptions of individuals and organisations.

As a caring society, we can break this chain by pausing the sharing and confirming the information received by cross-checking it with credible sources. If the information did not come from a trusted source and has variations or confusing statements, report it to the authorities and advise the sender to stop sharing without verifying.

“Other steps that can be taken include checking the logo properly if it looks like an official statement, and doing a little background check on individuals or social media accounts responsible for the particular piece of information, especially if the content seemed prejudiced or discriminatory,” he added.

“Stop spreading messages that start or end with ‘from a named contact who works at a particular hospital or police station, etc.,’ because such messages make things difficult for frontline or public health workers and media practitioners and confuse the general public who are not media-savvy,” advised Dr. Firdaus.

Self-censorship and media-savviness are important for today’s digital generation as it will help in identifying the tone, hidden messages or sentiments.

This applies to all types of contents, including audio and video clips, blog posts, social media posts, articles, news or WhatsApp messages. Be wary of forwarded messages that urge you to share with family and friends because that’s how things go viral.

Before sharing, ask yourself if the content is true, necessary and benefits society. If there are no clear benefits in sharing, just ignore it. This should be a natural lifestyle choice even without a pandemic in sight as modern-day communication and relationships are heavily influenced by media and we have a shared responsibility to keep our communication mediums safe.

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