Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.

– George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist

Fake news, fake news everywhere, and not a drop of truth!

This seems to be the scenario whenever certain issues become intense.

Collins Dictionary defines ‘fake news’ as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”

US president Trump popularised the term and has brought its usage to new heights.

Trump also has a tendency to describe news that is actually not fake, as fake. To his mind, any news that is unfavourable to him is apparently always fake.

He is also skilled in projecting the illusion of truth. We recently had our own ‘storm in a teacup’ concerning fake news.

It all began when one of the administrators from a popular Facebook page with about 52,300 members shared a link from a daily newspaper.

It stated that a tourist bus had carried 46 passengers from Sabah by land to Miri.

Due to some current Covid-19 scares, the posting led to criticisms by netizens.

They stated that the authorities here should not have allowed the bus to travel and enter Miri considering that Sabah still had a high number of Covid-19 cases.

A representative of Miri Disaster Management Committee (MDMC) set the record straight.

The bus had transported passengers who had arrived from Kota Kinabalu by air to a hotel for quarantine from Miri Airport — a routine issue in this new normal.

In the meantime, the administrator had corrected the posting by referring to the misreporting by the daily paper.

A statement from the MDMC very rightly reminded the public not to spread false information and to double-check first before sharing any information on social media sites.

However, it is the subsequent statement that the administrator of the FB page would be reported to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) that caused the social media storm.

The administrator and many of the supporters on the FB page queried that surely the news daily should also be the one to be reported as the originator of the fake news.

In this type of situations, there is the Court of Law and then there is the Court of Public Opinion.

On the legal side, we have the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 that does cover fake news issues.

There was also the now-repealed draconian Anti-Fake News Act (AFNA) 2018, seen as and a tool for tyranny.

In this FB page case, it seems the Court of Public Opinion was firmly on the side of the popular administrator.

However, it has been opined that the administrator does not fall foul of the CMA 1998 or even under the repealed AFNA 2018.

It is a difficult balancing act when one is doing enforcement and dealing with public emotions.

Let us hope this particular ‘storm in a teacup’ has been laid to rest and is seen as part of a learning curve due to the many new challenges presented to all parties.

However, the matter did not rest there. It was opined by some in the social media that a mandatory jail sentence should be imposed for fake news.

Perhaps there is strong support in political circles for this stand, but not much support amongst the rakyat, probably due to the potential for abuse by those with a political axe to grind.

Strangely enough, the main purveyors of fake news might actually be politicians — such as those waving around manifestoes with promises of 20 percent oil royalties and autonomy for Sarawak.

So should politicians also face mandatory jail terms for unfulfilled and fake promises?

I think we know the answer to that.

All said and done, ideally, we as individuals develop the critical ability to separate the wheat from the chaff when we receive any form of news that we need to pass on.

Certainly not an easy task, when the fake news is packaged by those with expertise in the social psychology of gullibility and behavioural sciences.  

I am sure many of us have at one time or another forwarded messages without much thought and only later come to realise its falsity.

Perhaps we can develop some element of healthy scepticism. This will help us discern the truth of a matter or as near to it as possible.

As a people, we need to strive towards truthfulness and transparency — not just the illusion of truth.

For Sarawak to elevate itself to a sustainable democracy, its future rests on a foundation of truthful news — be it from the government or from its people.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.