KUALA LUMPUR, May 7 — When the country was fighting the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) received 1,837 complaints of fake news about the Covid-19 vaccine.
MCMC Network Security Division chief Harme Mohamed said the situation raised fears among the public that some even lost confidence in the government’s efforts to deal with the crisis at that time.
“The spread of fake news online will not only cause panic but can also disrupt the stability and security of the country,” he told Bernama.
He said the trend related to fake news has continued and from January to February last year MCMC received 143 complaints.
Of the number, misinformation relating to government administration topped the list at 37 per cent, criminal cases such as fraud schemes and impersonation (16 per cent) and consumer issues (15 per cent), he added.
Meanwhile, according to a survey by online media monitoring company Meltwater Malaysia last year, 29.55 million Malaysians or 89.6 per cent spend nine hours a day surfing the internet.
Therefore, to combat fake information over the internet, fact-checking has become the latest initiative in the field of journalism in this country.
A fact-checker at MyCheck Malaysia, Fatin Najmi Mohammad Shah said fact-checking is an evolution in the journalism world as new techniques and tools were used to produce in-depth reports in debunking misinformation.
“The input that we include in our report is not just based on statements of denial by the individuals and organisations concerned as we also share the findings of our investigation.
“We need to use fact-checking tools and disclose to the public the processes involved,” she said.
According to Fatin Najmi, a total of 164 fact-checking reports were produced by MyCheck Malaysia on various issues such as consumerism, health, government policy and politics that went viral on social media.
MyCheck Malaysia, which started in March 2020, is a fact-checking initiative that operates with editorial independence to fight misinformation that was widespread in the country in accordance with international standards set by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).
In addition to MyCheck Malaysia, AFP Fact Check Asia (Malaysia) is another organisation combating misinformation in the country.
Meanwhile, Associate Prof Dr Masato Kajimoto from Journalism and Media Studies Centre, University of Hong Kong when contacted, said there is a significant difference between fact-checkers and journalists as the role of journalists is to inform the public about what they do not know, while fact-checkers correct the facts that are already known.
“Fact-checkers must be skilled in areas other than just producing comprehensive reports, such as in using fact-checking tools, great at social media monitoring, and making explanatory graphics or video,” he added.
Kajimoto, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Asian Network of News and Information Education (Annie) Lab, a university-based fact-checking organisation, pointed out that fact-checking is pivotal as misinformation could instil fear, panic and in many cases, wrath in individuals, resulting in riots, deaths, and other bad consequences.
“For example, during Hong Kong’s months-long protest known as the Umbrella Movement in 2014, various internet rumours, manipulated audio-visual materials, and other forms of groundless claims became people’s daily media consumption.
“It is people’s desire to know certain information. Hence, they would try to find the answers themselves, but the public is not exposed to fact-checking. As a result, they have to rely on whatever sources they believe to be reliable, which sometimes could be misleading,” he said.
Both Fatin Najmi and Kajimoto also opined that fact-checkers need to move in step with artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help identify patterns in the spread of false information through AI-specific applications.