By Ali Imran Mohd Noordin

KUALA LUMPUR: Palatau.

That is a term that has recently become popular among social media users in the country, particularly among Malay language speakers.

The term is a contraction of the Malay words kepala (head) and tahu (know). It refers to people who suddenly see themselves as subject matter experts despite having shallow knowledge of the subject.

The spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCOV) made headlines several days before the Chinese New Year. Many self-proclaimed experts have since come forward and shared their take on the matter through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

Most of the time, the information spread by these palatau ‘experts’ are based on personal opinions and deductions. They are designed to provoke and spread panic among the people.

This sensationalised disinformation, unfortunately, tend to garner a lot of ‘likes’ and spread like wildfire across social media platforms, causing misunderstanding and panic among the public.

For example, last week, several photos and videos made their rounds on social media claiming that it was proof that the Wuhan coronavirus have spread across several states in Malaysia.

In reality, Malaysia at the time was only in the process of putting into quarantine three Chinese nationals who entered the country through Singapore after they were caught in Johor. They were at the time only suspected cases.

Working efficiently

The government machinery has tirelessly worked at combatting the spread of false news regarding the coronavirus and at the same time educating Malaysian citizens how to best protect themselves from the virus.

The Malaysian Health Ministry has made full use of its social media platforms to address and refute fake news and false claims on the spread of the illness by irresponsible parties.

In addition to that, it is constantly updating on its website and through media release the latest statistics and updates regarding the spread of the coronavirus. Visitors can also find videos of tips and guidelines on how to keep themselves and their loved ones protected.

 The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) with the help of the police are also taking swift action against those who intend to create public chaos through the spread of fake news.

At the time of writing this article, the Health Ministry has identified and refuted 19 fake news related to the issue while the police have arrested six individuals involved with spreading fake news on the coronavirus.

All the charges have been made under Section 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998.

Aside from that, the fact-checking website sebenarnya.my is also another platform for the public to check false claims and fake news regarding the coronavirus.

Government news agencies like Bernama, RTM and the Information Department as well as private media agencies are also working hard at correcting misperceptions regarding the spread of the illness through their platforms, in addition to providing up-to-date coverage on the issue.

Coronapalatau

Irked by the rise in misinformation and disinformation on the coronavirus across media platforms, graphic artist Faris Akmal Faizal and pharmaceutical student Azahari Azizi decided to create an ‘infographic’ to sarcastically condemn the palatau group, while also reminding the public to be more discerning when sharing information on the illness.

The infographic entitled ‘Virus Coronapalatau’, meant to be a spoof of an infographic explaining the Wuhan coronavirus, describes a virus that “suddenly appears in the brains of a number of people, leading them to believe that they are suddenly experts in various subject matters”.

It also lists a host of ‘symptoms’ that shows if a person is infected and ‘safety tips’ to protect oneself from the made-up virus.

The image tickled many social media users and in a short time was shared by over 3,000 users across Facebook and Instagram.

“I believe that infographics are easier to share and the bonus is that it makes netizens think twice before sharing information that they can’t verify.

“I also hope that we can all work together at educating the public so that we can evolve into a community that do not easily believe every piece of information that comes our way, particularly when it comes at a time when everyone’s health and safety is at stake,” said Faris Akmal to Bernama.

Coronatracker

A group of Malaysian scientists have also come together to do their bit to stop the spread of fake news.

They have done this by creating a website that provides real-time information of the developments of the coronavirus issue in Malaysia and across the world.

“Using verified information, we can take precautionary steps to protect ourselves and others. We can stop the mass panic due to the spread of fake news by following effective preventive measures and relying on verified information from authorities like the Health Ministry.

“This is the main mission of the establishment of the volunteer group Corona Tracker,” said Dr Lau Cher Han, founder of the website CoronaTracker.

CoronaTracker (https://www.coronatracker.com/) is developed by Penang-based Dr Lau with the help of 400 volunteers from around Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippine, Taiwan, Japan, the US and Botswana.

The website allows visitors to find out the number of identified and suspected cases, related deaths and recoveries worlwide. It also compiles coronavirus-related news from across the world for ease of reference. – Bernama