Debunking Covid-19 myths, Malaysian style

A screenshot of the thisinfact website which caters to the multilingual Malaysian public.
A screenshot of the thisinfact website which caters to the multilingual Malaysian public.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 ― Fed up with the sheer volume of fake news being spread on social media in the age of the Covid-19 infodemic, husband-and-wife team Zan Azlee and Sheril A. Bustaman came up with a website that seeks to provide easy to read and digest credible news and information for Malaysian consumption.

And that was how www.thisinfact.com was born ― to debunk myths and fake news that was being disseminated under the guise of facts by Malaysians during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think people found it easier to read and absorb the unverified news and information because a lot of it was presented as easy to digest bite-sized content. People were sharing more fake news than actual truths,” Sheril told Malay Mail in a recent interview.

The duo who have backgrounds in the media partnered photojournalist Rahman Roslan to produce content in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil to cater to the multilingual Malaysian public.

“Our Tamil and Chinese content gets a lot of feedback. I think our Tamil and Chinese language content gets shared out a lot more because they’re generally not a target audience here and there’s less credible sources for them. This is a new and fresh alternative,” Sheril said.

As one of perhaps just two mythbusting platforms in the country, thisinfact aims to provide an independent source for credible information to complement the government’s fact-checking website Sebenarnya.my.

“Our goal is also to provide information in a colloquial way that is relevant to Malaysians,” she said.

From bite-sized “public service announcements”, thisinfact grew another limb to discuss news and current issues ― Berita Busters, an online news programme that presented issues and topics relevant to Malaysians with correspondents on the ground.

“We found that people really wanted to discuss the issues and thoughts faced by them with ordinary, non-judgemental platforms.

“We are open, and we talk in English and Malay, using colloquial style. I think we are welcoming to all kinds of opinions and perspectives, and provide an alternative to the mainstream news.

“There is a lot of government channels, the NSC SMSes, the news, websites, and they were not streamlined,” Sheril said, referring to the National Security Council, which has been playing an active role in the war against the coronavirus.

Husband-and-wife team Zan Azlee and Sheril A. Bustaman came up with a website that seeks to provide easy to read and digest credible news and information for Malaysian consumption.
Husband-and-wife team Zan Azlee and Sheril A. Bustaman came up with a website that seeks to provide easy to read and digest credible news and information for Malaysian consumption.

“People were confused and the reaction we got was that people really wanted to air their views and concerns about the practical day-to-day issues,” she added.

Berita Busters tackles a variety of subjects, from identifying fake news, dealing with fasting and Hari Raya, to wearing masks, and how to tackle the migrant issues relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“One of the most watched episodes was Keluang man where we talked about the origins of coronavirus. Nobody knows for sure yet where the virus came from. And we discuss that in the episode. So they're probably sharing it to spur conversation amongst their community,” Sheril said.

“We also find that people wanted to talk about these things, and how to fast or celebrate Raya rather than things like what the government is saying,” said Zan.

The show producers were also pleasantly surprised by the audience and the wide spectrum it attracted.

“We thought that the show would appeal mostly to the urban middle class who tend to be more liberal, and agree with us. But responses show that we have a spectrum of people, from those in rural Sabah and Sarawak to conservatives. We had commenters who were disagreeing with us, too, which is good,” said Zan.

He said audiences ranged from the mid-20s to late 50s, and they tended to be more males than females.

“I guess this is because more baby boomers are on Facebook now and they follow the news from there. These are the same people who read Malaysiakini, Malay Mail, and the like. The engagement was surprisingly high also,” he said.

Zan said that he believed the animations they used were also attractive and useful, and appealed to the public as it was serious topics but with a “chill” vibe.

“I guess because we are an independent organisation, we are not fed information and our style of presentation is open, colloquial and conversational compared to mainstream organisations which often feels scripted,” he said.

As the team completed its first season of Berita Busters, the next move would be to move away from Covid-19 and expand on subjects.

“But our fall back will always be on countering misinformation,” said Zan.

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