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Fake News

16 December 2019


By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

We live in difficult, if not dangerous times in Hong Kong.

The anti-government protests that started nearly six months ago in the wake of an attempt by the government to pass an extradition bill have shown no sign of a let-up.

Mercifully, the escalation of violence that ultimately led to more than 5,000 people being arrested abated long enough for a watershed election to be held.

But for how long will this uneasy calm last?

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If we’re being optimistic we’d say that the administration should see the vote of no-confidence by the electorate in the Nov 24 election as a sign they should relent a bit and listen more to the protesters’ grievances.

But if we allow ourselves to wallow in the same state of hopelessness we were in when the protests escalated a few weeks ago we won’t see an end to the mayhem unless one side makes a major concession.

As we stay on the edge of our seats waiting for things to unfold, or hopefully end, we should also make sure we don’t fall prey to the misinformation swirling around us.

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There’s enough uncertainty facing us all here, and we shouldn’t compound it by raising a false alarm, spreading unverified information, or worse, deliberately feeding our community with lies.

Most vulnerable to misinformation are members of our migrant community, who by their sheer number, are able to share news to a wider audience, and fast.

Forced to stay put in their employers’ homes on their only rest day in the week because of the protests, they get to spend even more time checking their mobile phones and passing on information.

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The trouble is, some of them don’t bother with fact-checking even if the information can be checked readily by accessing mainstream media or other more reliable sources like the Consulate’s Facebook page.

Thus, the story about a supposed mass evacuation of Filipinos from Hong Kong easily caught on, and spread fast. Never mind if this was only raised as a possibility by the Philippine Labor Secretary during radio interviews in Manila.

The story so alarmed the community that Consul General Raly Tejada took no time setting the record straight. “I would like to put this issue to rest,” he said in his first meeting with Filcom leaders.

Speculations did die down considerably, but there remain many holdouts. Reacting recently to our story on the spike in the number of Filipino domestic workers arriving in Hong Kong despite the chaos, a netizen chastised us with, “Hindi ba ninyo na alam na may ban na si Bello dyan?”

There are many others spread by people with lots of time on their hands, and who specifically target our OFWs, knowing how fast unverified stories could travel among them.

Who could forget the story about migrant workers supposedly being offered $5,000 to take part in rallies? If it didn’t alarm so many people in the community it would have been laughable, especially since this was the time when two million people took to the streets to join the anti-extradition call.

Who would bother enticing fake protesters with money when there were millions who genuinely believed in the cause and had no qualms showing it?

Another rumor that spread fast was the supposed offer of a reward by the police to any domestic worker who would snitch on their employers who join the protests. This one caught on because former Chief Executive CY Leung re-posted the leaflets supposedly advertising the police offer.

But CY or not, this blatant disinformation, like all the rest, could be easily discerned. For one thing, the leaflets supposedly targeting migrant workers were in Cantonese. For another, they listed down unknown numbers for the police when calling 999 would have been far simpler and faster.

What we should emphasize here is that indeed, relying on social media for information is the only way forward. It is faster, more accessible, and offers a wide variety of news sources to choose from.

But using social media comes with a lot of risk, and its advantages could also turn to disadvantages. Thus we must always treat stories that we get off it with caution and discernment. How reliable is the source, how credible is the story itself?

Until we get into the habit of checking and double checking our information we must hold off passing it around. That is the only way we could help ease some of the problems besetting us during these difficult times.


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