Fake News On WhatsApp: Some Ridiculous, Some Insidious, All Untrue
Facebook is a top source of fake news. Facebook owns WhatsApp.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that the the text messaging app is also a hotbed for fake news and online falsehoods.
In fact, it seems that the student has outpaced the master.
A survey conducted by the Government feedback department REACH has found that more Singaporeans come across fake news on WhatsApp than Facebook, according to TODAY’s report (26 Mar).
50% of 1617 polled Singaporeans come across fake news on WhatsApp, compared to Facebook’s 46%.
This ubiquitousness might have contributed to WhatsApp displacing Facebook from its unwanted perch.
Let’s take a look at some of the falsehoods unsuspecting Singaporeans may have inadvertently helped to spread.
1. Plastic rice
Early in 2017, a paragraph which purported to warn people off buying Jasmine fragrant rice from NTUC FairPrice circulated via WhatsApp.
The typo-filled passage cited a “fren”, a chemist, in its message.
Obviously, the rumour was false.
It did manage to draw a reaction from NTUC FairPrice, who debunked the baseless claims and reassured shoppers that their rice is safe for consumption. They also filed a police report.
2. CPF savings
In the middle of 2017, another message circulated on WhatsApp. This time, the falsehood being spread concerned our CPF savings.
This message made a fraudulent claim that when you die, your CPF savings will be transferred to a family member’s Medisave account, instead of getting the full sum in cash.
This particular piece of fake news even stated:
Die die they (the CPF board) dont give to Next of Kin the CASH
Seemingly trying to insinuate that the government is rather like the treasure-hoarding dragon in The Hobbit trilogy.
His name is Smaug. Put some respect on it.
Our government was quick to quash the rumour, pointing out that it had previously debunked a similar claim in 2012.
3. Cloud seeding
For the uninitiated, cloud seeding is the act of dispersing substances into the air, in order to effectively gain greater control over the weather.
This particular untruth insinuates that the Government was conducting cloud seeding to induce rain ahead of the Formula 1 weekend.
The message cautioned “friends” to “avoid the rain these few days”, lest they get caught up in “chemically induced rain showers”.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and former Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin took to Facebook to dispute the false claims.
Both Ministers – or Minister and current Speaker, if you want to get technical about it – revealed that Singapore is too small for cloud seeding to be effective.
They also chastised the spreader of the falsehood over their attempt to spread fear, particularly when the haze, a “real health and safety situation” was ongoing.
4. Dog and cat meat satay hoax
Everyone know what satay is. It is one-third of the Holy Trinity of foods that you will surely order when eating at Chomp Chomp or Bedok 85, along with oyster omelette and giant glasses of sugar cane juice.
Imagine, though, if you were unknowingly fed satay made from dog and cat meat.
While you’re trying not to throw up in your mouth, rest assured that this is like every other entry on this list; a hoax.
Pictures were circulating on Facebook and Facebook-owned WhatsApp, apparently depicting the “special” satays being prepared and the alleged perpetrator being caught.
Both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower stepped in to say that no one did no such thing.
And now, back to out regularly scheduled binging.
5. Fine for leaving used tissue
it is said that three are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Singaporeans using tissue packets to ‘chope’ seats at food courts.
Someone who apparently hates this practice dropped a line, saying that throwing used tissue into your tableware is a fineable offence.
To the tune of two hundred dollars merrily waltzing away from your pockets.
While snot and saliva-infused tissues mixed with satay sauce is admittedly disgusting, you won’t get fined for doing it.
You’re a bad person, but you won’t get fined.
NEA swiftly reacted to stamp out the untruth. No need to put away those tissue packets yet.
6. GST Vouchers to the people
This one is a Public Service Announcement, actually.
The person/people behind this are actually pretty nice guy/s, if you only get to know them.
They were simply providing a great measure of convenience to Singaporeans. Just click on this not-at-all-suspicious link to check on your GST voucher.
We’d like to think that Singaporeans as a society have moved past clicking on dodgy links.
TinyURL is a free link shortening service that can help would-be scammers disguise their other wise suspicious links.
7. Free kicks
This is a delightful little one that I had the pleasure of encountering.
No, Adidas are not giving out free pairs of shoes.
If they were, they wouldn’t be giving them out via WhatsApp.
Or require you to go to a website with a domain name of “getyourshoes”.
Unfortunately, it seems that many a would-be hypebeast fell victim to the phishing scam.
Adidas representatives have dismissed claims that they would do things without a profit.
In the meantime, we’ll just have to go back to queuing for hours or staying up late to fill our virtual shopping carts.
8. Upper Serangoon speed camera hoax
Certain unnamed ne’er do wells took an infographic made up by Channel NewsAsia and used it to spread lies.
Namely, that state-of-the-art speed cameras were being installed along Upper Serangoon Road.
— Channel NewsAsia (@ChannelNewsAsia) February 15, 2017
The folks from Roads.sg personally checked went down to the site and found that there were no such cameras installed.
9. Potential terrorist attacks
Here’s where things start getting a little malicious. How malicious?
Well, the Police had to come out and tell us it was untrue.
What’s with fake news and having friends in sensitive, key governmental positions?
Anyway, this propagator of propaganda probably sought to disrupt public peace by banking on people’s fears of terrorist organisation ISIS, who were all the rage in 2016.
It gets more sinister when you consider that this was shared during the festive period, when everyone’s probably out doing Christmas shopping.
10. City wide lockdown
Here’s another rumour that had the SPF coming out to say: “Really guys?”
This particular offending article spun tall tales of a national lockdown. The details of which are being shared around on WhatsApp like chain mail.
Come on, guys.
The SPF put it best, when they called it completely false and totally irresponsible.
As for claims that we’re being targeted by ISIS, well, we’re a prosperous, secular nation — of course we are. Along with every other nation in the world.
Make the dream work
With the advent of social media and messaging apps, the nutty conspiracy theorists now have a platform for their misguided views.
But it’s truly up to every one of us to weed out the untruths and prevent their spread.
Besides simply using your brain, here are some measures you can take to prevent the spread of fake news.
This is truly a team effort.
Preventing the spread of fake news, that is. Not using your brain.
No more surprises.