I thought chain messages were passé until my friends told me they are still receiving them on WhatsApp. Except this time, the consequence of not forwarding the message is not being cursed or dying horribly. These days, chain messages are the best means to spread fake news.
Our relatives are usually the ones to forward these messages in good faith. They genuinely believe that they are doing a public service by warning those close to them about some non-existent emergency.
These relatives become the butt of our jokes. We talk about how typical the ridiculously illegitimate message sound – “Do they actually think this is real?”
Most of these older relatives are already worried about the bad things that could happen to their children on a daily basis. So when there’s an announcement about tainted food or some safety breach, it triggers those underlying concerns and sparks a reaction (forwarding the message) easily.
Are Millennials Really Better?
We all like to think that as the internet savvy generation, we are immune to fake news. Armed with the ability to cross reference and question sources, I assumed younger Singaporeans would be less susceptible to fall prey. But I’ve been proven wrong and I even fall for it myself sometimes.
When it comes to fake news, we say the older generation is too gullible. However, we, the supposedly more informed generation, are no exception.
This post, for instance, shows data about our national debt being at a whopping 12 digits. At first glance, it’s easy to jump on this data and declare that Singapore is doomed. But ‘national debt’ actually refers to what the government owes its people through channels like CPF or bonds – something completely normal.
I wanted to give the Facebook user a benefit of doubt, that he was simply confused between the definition of national debt and external debt. But scrolling through his older posts, his anti-government sentiments were conspicuous. He also included the same ‘national debt image’ in the comments section of his newer posts – presumably for a second chance at fame. It’s hard not to assume he harboured an ulterior motive.
Although several people had corrected him in the comments section, the damage had already been done. The shocking numbers tied well with the disgruntled, (debatably) overworked and underpaid Singaporeans. Many had shared the image together with angry captions; the post had successfully gone viral.
While this is just one example, it goes to show how easily it is to sow discord by leveraging on existing societal issues or any negative feelings.
Heart Over Mind
Many of those who shared the post were swayed by their emotions and preconceived beliefs. It supported their opinion about how ‘Singapore sucks’ and how ‘our government sucks’. As long as the post is in line with our internal narrative, many of us will hit that like or share button faster than we can ask ourselves, “is this legit?”
Often, when fake news goes viral, it taps on our dissatisfaction and our desire to make a change.
Just like when we heard about the BMW owner allegedly bullying the petrol kiosk uncle into paying for his petrol, the country flipped out. We formed an online mob and the petrol company responded, reassuring us that there is an investigation ongoing. Meanwhile, online vigilantes took justice into their own hands. Our collective likes and shares eventually rallied enough people to our cause and we hunted the ‘bad guy’ down.
Only, the bad guy wasn’t that bad. It was just a one-sided story that went wrong.
More recently, former national striker Noh Alam Shah had to deal with the confusion of his fans and family when he was mistakenly reported dead. As minor as it may sound, such inaccurate news can be very distressing for the individuals and the people around them.
If you think about it, the sharing of chain messages or fake news is akin to the “1 like 1 prayer” notion. People who like and share the post feel like they played a part in creating change. If only it was so easy.
We are motivated by the power a share, a like, and a comment can hold. And as stereotypical as it sounds, the internet community has time and again shown that we can make a bigger impact when we rally as one. Our voices become louder and together, we form a mob strong enough that could possibly get us what we want. Sometimes, we get the attention of big companies and sometimes, political leaders notice us.
This behaviour works in our favour when done right, but at other times, it simply looks bad on us.
Our relatives could easily be excused for being gullible or simply unaware, but what is our excuse? As the millennial generation that is associated with being tech-savvy, we should be more discerning when it comes to fake news.
It is not as as simple as avoiding non-credible news sources; because even the more reputable newspapers make mistakes. The only solution is to do our due diligence and research before we pick a side. Otherwise, we might just be deemed as ill-informed and hot headed. If not, it might be just better to stick to sharing lifestyle content.