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Rumour mill working full steam

Publication Date : 10-03-2014


There are people out there who are either evil or have a wicked sense of humour. They create fake reports on social media.

There are also gullible people out there who believe these Facebook and Twitter reports.

On Saturday, Malaysians woke up to the shocking news that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 bound for Beijing went missing at 1.30am, less than an hour after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

They also woke up to a deluge of fake reports circulated on Facebook and Twitter.

The biggest hoax on that day was that the Boeing 777-200ER with 239 people on board had made an emergency landing in Nanning, China. Many believed the hoax.

Even three Malaysian media organisations fell for it. One posted it on its Facebook account and the other two reported it as a fact.

On Twitter, “credible” personalities gave credence to the fake report.

An opposition leader retweeted “Alhamdulillah! Allah­uakbar!”, for example, to a tweet quoting a news portal that the MAS plane had landed.

Later, she deleted her tweet when she was told that the report was false.

When I saw the fake report, I hoped it was true.

However, I was sceptical. As at 10am on that day, MAS would have confirmed the plane’s safe landing.

I wanted to tweet that I thought the report was fake.

But I didn’t, as I was not sure whether I was right.

If I did, I would also be tweeting unverified information.

So I waited until my colleagues could get a statement from the authorities.

Around 10:30am, I received confirmation that MAS had denied the report.

“We have checked with ground control and it’s not true,” said Fuad Sharuji, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) vice-president of operations control.

I then tweeted: “MAS has denied rumour that the missing plane has landed in Nanning. Please don’t spread hoax.”

Ng Wai Mun (@ng_waimun) replied: “most swear by that story becoz their friend works in that control tower!”

I tweeted: “Rumours of missing plane landing in Nanning started because people got friends in cont­r­ol tower. I also got friends in McDonald’s.”

Even after I tweeted that MAS had denied the rumour, I still received tweets from people who did not believe the official denial.

“Wonder why MAS denied. I have seen tweets from ex-MAS people saying plane landed under Chinese fighter escort,” a stranger whose profile states “22 years in journalism” tweeted to me.

Exasperated, I replied: “because it is a hoax.”

Later, he tweeted: “Why so many rumours on MAS plane? Who would create Nanning & Chinese fighter jet escort story during such trying time? I’m sad.”

Throughout Saturday and yesterday, I received tweets asking me what’s the latest or to verify reports.

For example, Raja Mohd Shahrim (@RajaMohdShahrim) tweeted to me: “true of false..??” and attached a picture.

It was a Whatsapp message: “MH370 missing updates. Plane crashed at Vietnam. All people in the plane died. CNN reported. Plane was confirmed to have crashed 100km north of Ho Chi Minh city due to rainstorm at Ho Chi Minh. The local people thought it was meteor crashing. Due to rain and hilly terrain, rescue activities facing problem.”

I replied that it was not true.

I found Queen Jerine (@QueenJerine)’s tweet “Every Malay­sian’s part-time weekend job is to be news reporter ... Thanks for all the copy & paste updates that I don’t need” to ring true.

On Twitter, almost everybody I followed became an expert on the missing plane. They tweeted whatever they read or watched on Flight MH370.

Even my sisters and niece who are not into hard news were posting information about the plane on our family Whatsapp group.

I was surprised as they are the type who wouldn’t get excited if I told them that Abdul Taib Mahmud was resigning as Sarawak chief minister.

So I asked them why they were fascinated with the story.

Marilyn, my 29-year-old sister, said: “I like flying MAS, so it could be me on that plane. And I feel for those who were on board the flight.”

Josie, my 49-year-old sister: “I always have flying phobia that I’m in the toilet and the plane crash! Plane crash is tragic moment and painful death to the passengers. It is the most unwanted thing to happen to you or your family.”

Kathy, my 50-year-old sister: “There is a mystery to what happened to the plane.”

As I go through my feeds on Twitter, the confounding mystery of the missing plane still dominates my timeline.

Some questioned why our submarines were not deployed. Someone tweeted: “Singapore offers submarine vessel to search for missing MAS flight. What happened to our submarines?”

Goh Wei Liang (@manifestogwl) replied: “a SSR vessel is not a submarine, right?”

Syamin Hamidin (@syaminhamidin) tweeted: “How some people can be too simple minded amazes me. The subs are not equipped for SAR that’s why it’s not used. Still nak politicised that.”

I felt like tweeting “rumours and speculation are of no help” but I didn’t.

Those who thrive on rumours and speculation can’t be helped.


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