Fake news, real threats from pandemic to endemic

21 Feb 2022 09:03am
Close up of people using mobile smart phones - Detail of friends sharing photos on social media network with smartphone - Technology concept and cellphone culture with selective focus on right hand
Close up of people using mobile smart phones - Detail of friends sharing photos on social media network with smartphone - Technology concept and cellphone culture with selective focus on right hand
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Hope, optimism, faith and positivity are the words occupying our minds these days.

Every morning we wake up telling ourselves we need to get this pandemic over with once and for all after two years of suffering the uncertainties.

The government claims that the endemic is just around the corner, but the light remains dim at the end of the tunnel as daily Covid-19 cases figures continue to increase.

Since reports of the virus in Wuhan, China began, people were scrambling for information – endlessly and persistently either for updates, happenings around the world, latest medical research findings and most importantly a permanent solution.

The constant demand for the latest updates warrants a higher supply of information that creates vulnerability for the breeding of fake news phenomena.

Since the arrival of the virus two years back, everyone has been sharing a piece of their mind and opinions on Covid-19 without any proper research and investigation.

We can read on their assumptions, hypotheses and theories with their hopes of championing the issue without not knowing the truth in their writings.

Others aim to generate income from advertisements with outrageous stories and assumptions just to attract high numbers of online visitors.

This unknown chain of information is not only detrimental to individuals but also are harmful to society and eventually becomes a nuisance to the nation.
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As the world moves towards the endemic phase, fake news is indeed a real threat that can hamper the government’s tremendous effort during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Fake news is like cancer that acts as a silent killer to the country, can turn deadly or threaten societal stability.

It affects people by making them feel worried and anxious, eventually experiencing a nervous breakdown.

Some are suffocated with manipulated content, making them question the safety of themselves and their family.

This is evident when people started losing their jobs, loved ones and events to the extent of taking their own lives.

From an alternative perspective, society is at stake as false information terrorizes the minds of the people.

Chaos, frantic and hectic are words to describe incidences resulting from the spreading of fake news that were out of the blue, people start to ambush the supermarkets leaving them with empty shelves and a shortage of supplies especially bread and toilet rolls.

Tracing back this scenario brings us to deceptive information being circulated a day earlier about a certain food and product's unavailability.

Not to forget misleading information that made Ivermectin the cure to Covid-19, without knowing the anti-parasitic substance had severe side effects of vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and could even lead to death.

In India, for example, it was claimed that cow urine was a remedy to this deadly virus but proven medically untrue and has not only affected India but many other countries as well.

The government has spent millions on campaigns to create awareness among the people and more significantly on vaccination programmes.

However, fake news has dampened the government’s effort by misleading the people about the effect of vaccinations whereas on Feb 12, 97.5 per cent of the adults have been vaccinated while others remain hesitant.

Fake news is contagious and worse than the virus itself with fake scenarios are seen as real by the group of anti-vaccines.

To reach the endemic phase, such criteria must be met - high immune protection, less transmission and less hospitalisation and death.

How can we reach this phase when we still have unvaccinated people who believe fake news rather than facts and credible information from the media?

Unverified news disseminated by irresponsible people has overpowered the media.

The government through Multimedia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) introduced an information verification portal, sebenarnya.my.

People can check the validity of information scattered in social media, short messaging services, portals or blogs there.

MCMC also enforces Malaysia Anti-Fake News Act 2018 under the Communication and Multimedia Ministry to curb falsifying news that includes creating, offering and publishing.

During Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s tenure as Prime Minister, an Emergency Ordinance was declared in 2021 for the same reason.

During this period, the Emergency Ordinance took effect in ensuring a thorough control of fake news on Covid-19 that could face a fine of up to RM100,000 fine or three years jail or both.

For example, a housewife made history as the first person to be charged under the Emergency Ordinance and was fined RM5000 for disseminating fake news about Covid-19 via WhatsApp with the intention of causing panic to the people.

In another case, a financial analyst was detained under Section 6 of the Emergency Ordinance over a tweet on the RM70 million government budget to develop a system for the vaccination programme.

As of September 2021, the Health Ministry announced there were 63 fake news cases as compared to 416 a year before.

This implies that the government policies and regulations showed positive outcomes in creating awareness and caution among the public on the threat of fake news.

Declination in the number of cases within a year from 2020 indicated spreading misleading content had become less effective.

Public awareness among Malaysian has shown a positive impact as more people dismissed fake news.

It is evident that people are utilising MySejahtera applications broadly for movement tracking, health screening and vaccination status besides pinpointing the hotspots.

As of Feb 12, urban areas have recorded higher vaccination rates with the highest being 95 per cent in Klang Valley.

This demonstrates that media has played an integral part in fighting the same battle with the government against Covid-19 for the past two years.

Besides the continuous campaigns, media needs to champion the government’s policies and regulations in Covid-19 pandemic and vaccination.

Malaysians cannot rest on their laurels and close one eye to fake news. Challenges are still present to disrupt our journey towards normalcy.

Anti-vaccine groups will always be active and fight for their “bodily rights” thus the government should step up and discuss with these anti-vaccine groups to find a consensus and a way to move forward.

The government should also look at tightening laws and policies of fake news.

In Singapore for example, the government imposes longer jail terms and higher penalties to deter the spread of false news.

We must also not forget while carrying out these executions it must not be at the expense of freedom of speech and upholding democratic values.

Having tightening laws in place, it will smoothen our passage towards the endemic phase.

It is obvious that nobody wants to endure an extended nightmare any longer – not for two years, not even in 100 years’ time.

Azawate Zenol Abidin, Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.