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Be wary of the Online ‘Truths’
Published on: Sunday, March 19, 2017

By Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau
After the Rio Olympics match between our national badminton hero, Datuk Lee Chong Wei and archrival Lin Dan in August 2016, a letter allegedly written by the Chinese shuttler went viral on social media.

In response, Lee clarified that the letter was bogus.

In another example of viral news, Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Razak appeared on a fake cover of Time magazine dated Tuesday, 22nd March 2016 when in fact, the magazine’s publication is on every Monday.

On 18th January this year, Bank Negara denied an article by a local daily and a viral post on social media claiming that contactless cards were vulnerable to electronic pick-pocketing. These are just a few examples of fake news that have been shared widely on social media and messaging apps without being verified by users.

The Digital Age has brought immense benefits to our society and economy. Through the Internet, communication and sharing of information have become almost instantaneous.

With the proliferation of social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter, messaging apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat as well as video-sharing sites like YouTube, news, rumors and multimedia content often spread like wildfire, or as what netizens like to say – “Gone Viral”. Online viral involves the rapid dissemination of information and opinion about an issue or information, from a user to another on the Internet.

Malaysia has one of the highest Internet and social media penetration in the region, recording 61.8 per cent in 2016. According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report, 69 per cent of Malaysians received their news from social media, putting them second behind Hong Kong as the biggest social media news consumer.

Good viral content could increase knowledge, inspire awareness and inform users; whereas inaccurate or malicious content could create false emotions and perceptions, deceiving users into unsolicited engagements.

Today’s cyberspace is inundated with “fake news”. Fake news are stories that are entirely fabricated but which can riff on a popular news topic. Websites that share such information are typically set up to promote propaganda or make financial gain.

According to a survey done by a leading UK news channel, only 4 percent of adults surveyed can correctly identify the authenticity of a news story. Fake news headlines also fooled adults in United States about 75 percent of the time, as reported by a large-scale survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News.

The Pew Research Center, one of the most reputable sources for data on how Americans use and think about technology, found in its recent survey that almost 25 percent of Americans have admitted to sharing fake news while 30 percent say they “often” come across political stories which are fabricated.

With the ease of Internet connectivity, fake news, whether creating with intention or by sheer ignorance, is just one click away for each and every netizen.

Like many others, I utilise Whatsapp as a mean to keep in touch with my friends. I frequently observe “news” being shared in group chats, sometimes out of good intention, only to find out they are hoax upon verifying with credible sources. I am sure many of you could relate.

Its Group Chat feature could accommodate up to 256 people. Imagine the damage we could have caused if we share inaccurate information with several groups! The same applies to other forms of communication platform.

Fake news offers yet another “innovative” way for cyber criminals to launch phishing, malware and other malicious attacks. It is very much like how email and instant messaging have served as delivery means for these threats.

Cybercriminals are cleverly exploiting the vulnerability of human nature.pcFor example, by leveraging on current events such as natural disasters, these cybercriminals can send a phishing email purportedly from the disaster victims group requesting for financial aid.

Through the use of social bots, they can even make it “trending” in social media, thus taking advantage of our emotions to drive that charitable movement. With the increasing use of digital technology, it is vital that our netizens, young or old, are aware of the potential dangers online and understand how to keep themselves safe.

Education and awareness are two important components in ensuring a safe and responsible cyberspace for all.

Safer Internet Day, which is celebrated globally in February each year, aims to promote safe and positive use of digital technology amongst children and young people across the world.

Organised by the European network of Awareness Centres promoting safer and better Internet usage (Insafe) and the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE), this year’s theme “Be the Change: Unite for a Better Internet” focused on the importance of collaboration and unity.

In conjunction with SID 2017, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) together with its agency CyberSecurity Malaysia launched a nationwide campaign “MyViralVow” to galvanise our netizens to make a vow to refrain from blindly engaging in online viral activities.

The campaign introduces several viral vow messages to the Internet users so that they verify stories, facts, information or videos on the Internet before sharing them. Local organisations are also encouraged to create awareness amongst employees on the importance of Internet safety.

During the extensive MyViralVow campaign in February, Mosti and the agencies under its umbrella joint forces to reach out to at least 18 000 people through events and the media to promote this cause.

Sebenarnya.my, a portal developed by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and launched Tuesday, is a one stop site for Malaysians to check and report on unverified news.

Both “MyViralVow” campaign and the site share the same objective, which is to curb the spread of false news among the society that could pose threats to the security and peace of our country.

Critical thinking, common sense and media literacy are the key to identifying the difference between the truth and false news. If suspect something amiss, do spend a couple of minutes doing some research to check for credibility before sharing.

Fake news sites often have unusual URLs, but not always. The careless sharing of information on the net would only cause cybercrimes to proliferate. A total of 3 921 online fraud cases were reported to CyberSecurity Malaysia last year, compared to 3 257 in 2015. Online fraud represented the most number of cases reported involving cyber security in the country during the past five years.

Just like in the real world, Internet users must be responsible for their cyber activities.

Each and every individual netizen in Malaysia is empowered to play his or her part in combating cybercrime, starting by being careful and responsible in sharing information.

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