The ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan is not just a test of our global healthcare response — it’s also a fight against fake news.
The spread of fake news is extremely problematic in normal circumstances, but can become downright dangerous when it relates to a health pandemic. The victims of fake news may question the expertise of doctors and government officials because of contradicting information they have read on their social media.
In Australia, Facebook posts falsely stating coronavirus has been found in rice, noodles, energy drinks and Wagyu beef has spread like wildfire. While in the United States, conspiracy theories claiming that virus was created in a lab by the US government has been retweeted thousands of times.
Malaysia has not been spared in the battle against viral misinformation.
See examples of “fake news” that has recently made the rounds on Malaysian social media:
1. A new case of coronavirus was discovered at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Hospital in Kuantan.
TRUTH: Pahang Health director Datuk Dr Bahari Awang Ngah has confirmed that there is no cases of infection reported at the hospital.
2. A Facebook post claiming the deceased body of a Chinese citizen infected with the coronavirus had to be removed from a bus en-route to Johor.
TRUTH: Iskandar Puteri district police Chief Dzulkhairi Mukhtar said the victim was in fact a Singaporean. The 78-year-old man, who passed out at the immigration counter at Kompleks Sultan Abu Bakar, died of a heart attack on Saturday.
3. Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng claims it’s acceptable for Chinese nationals who are infected with the virus to enter the country as Malaysia has many public hospitals that can treat them.
TRUTH: No such statement has been made by the Finance Minister. In fact, all immigration facilities have been suspended for immigrants from 23 cities, spanning 3 Chinese provinces. This ludicrous claim was shared in the Facebook page “Friends of UMNO” by irresponsible opposition supporters who have chosen to politicize the issue to further their own agenda.
4. Five individuals who have contracted the virus from their trip to Wuhan have been admitted to Hospital Sultanah Nur Zahirah in Kuala Terengganu.
TRUTH: This myth has been debunked by the Ministry of Health on the 26th of January via their official Twitter page.
So how exactly does one protect themselves against fake coronavirus news?
1. Verify the source
Real news stories will be supported by strong evidence such as verified documents, scientific studies or direct quotes from named experts on the subject. Is the news you’ve just read from a credible news agency that is likely to use fact-checkers? Or is it a forwarded message from an anonymous sender? Identify the source before believing it.
2. Get your information directly from trusted sources
Members of the public are advised to refer to (MOH) or (WHO) for the latest updates on the virus. Additionally, BERNAMA and RTM are also excellent sources, as their extensive coverage on the virus has been vetted by government officials.
3. Go to Sebenarnya.my to debunk Fake News
Sebenarnya.my is a one-stop centre for concerned citizens to verify the authenticity of information before sharing it. The website, which is designed to sort out myths and rumors on the Internet has created a special category for the novel coronavirus. As many as 18 pieces of fake news on the outbreak has already been exposed. Frequent the website to be well-informed of false information circulating online.
4. Pause before you share
Instead of instantly liking or sharing a sensational post, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions. Is this factual? Have I verified the information before sharing this? While protecting yourself against fake news, take precaution to not become part of the problem unknowingly. PDRM and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has issued a warning that stern action will be taken against irresponsible parties who spread misinformation on the virus.