PETALING JAYA, Sept 10 — Fake news has become more prevalent, and its impact has been even more of a concern with the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a recent study by online activist network Avaaz, at least 800 people died around the world, and almost 6,000 were hospitalised because of Covid-19 related misinformation in just the first three months of this year.
While fake news is not a new phenomenon, technological developments have magnified its danger, with information — be it true or false — so easily and widely circulated in the age of social media.
The open nature of social media makes it easy for just about anyone to publish stories or create posts, making it difficult for businesses to repair the damage done by false stories as explained in a recent video by The Rakyat Post (TRP).
The video, uploaded two weeks ago, discusses the negative impact fake news has not only on brands, but on local consumers as well, with consumer perceptions often altered after being exposed to news on their social media feeds or through other social apps like WhatsApp.
This is an all too common phenomenon here in Malaysia, and the harm caused by fake news, including to businesses, has been repeatedly demonstrated over the past few years.
Recently, children’s nutrition company Danone Dumex came under fire, no thanks to the spread of fake information.
The brand’s milk powder product, Dugro, was the subject of a number of unsubstantiated allegations on public Facebook groups claiming that the product causes diarrhoea.
Posts made on the groups were even boosted by ads to increase audience reach, which suggests a specific or malicious intent to harm the company’s image.
Dumex Dugro social media account administrators were even blocked from reacting to those posts, meaning that they could neither respond to concerned consumers nor deny the allegations.
Just a couple of weeks ago, TRP reported that Starbucks Malaysia had also been the subject of false allegations, in this case of its products being “non-halal,” via a recurring viral WhatsApp message.
The message claims that Starbucks uses E471 (Emulsifier 471) — an ingredient with porcine origins — in its beverages, and also that other items on the menu like the tiramisu frappuccino have traces of alcohol in them.
However, despite the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) responding to the illegitimacy of the viral message, the false claims resurfaces every now and then.
Dumex and Starbucks aren’t the only businesses to have fallen victim to fake news, as other household brands such as McDonald’s Malaysia and Bata Malaysia have also been on the wrong side of false news.
In 2017, a number of claims began circulating online stating that McDonald’s Malaysia contributed to the Israel-Palestine conflict via funds to the Jewish United Fund, which almost led to a nationwide boycott against the company.
Bata Malaysia has also suffered the sting of fake news as the shoemaker recorded an estimated RM700,000 in losses three years ago after a teacher claimed that the tread pattern on one of its shoes resembled the word “Allah” — resulting in a costly mass recall and redesign of the shoe model.
Spotting fact from fake
With so much fake news circulating, it has become increasingly important for consumers to educate themselves on how to separate fact from fiction.
According to social media analyst Tai Zee Kin, there are many ways to distinguish between real and fake news but he said in the TRP video that the easiest way for consumers to identify fakes would be to use the “SCS” or Source, Credibility and Search method.
The first step would be to ascertain the source of the news, as reputable and mainstream media platforms are less likely to disseminate false information.
Consumers should also be wary of headlines for their news, as attention-grabbing headlines are often used to trick consumers into reading an article.
Secondly, the next step would be to scrutinise the credibility of the source, by visiting the webpage to look at and validate some of the other content on it.
For example, trustworthy articles will have little to no errors in them and will almost certainly quote external sources to help support the argument the story is presenting.
The last step would be to “search” for the article or information online, simply by copying the headline or contents of the article and searching for corroborating materials online.
If the news has been carried by a number of mainstream and trustworthy media outlets, there is a higher chance that it is true.
It is also recommended that consumers stop to think before sharing an article that they may think is fake news, as people tend to perceive things differently based on what is familiar and interesting to them, and what they consider to be important.
Even if you follow all those steps and end up a little unsure of what you’ve read, you can always make use of fact-checking websites online such as FactCheck.org and Snopes.com, and even local sites like Sebenarnya.my to verify information.