On Saturday, a moderator on the Temasek Review FaceBook page (associated with the Temasek Revealed blog) posted the status update (above) “a [nineteen] year-old full-time [n]ational [s]erviceman died during a live firing exercise in [the] Sembawang area yesterday”. After going viral on an assortment of forums and social networking sites, it was revealed that the matter was a hoax, and an apology was subsequently put up. The Sunday Times also ran a report about the episode.
The intent of the update was by no means malicious (simply for the dissemination of “news information”), and the ramifications were not overwhelming detrimental (as compared to, say, the Steve Jobs hoax a couple of years ago). Nevertheless, it has highlighted the importance of verifying the authenticity of sources, and the need for readers to be more cognisant and discerning when reading pieces online.
Comprehending The Consequences
Reading and sharing of the aforementioned update did set off a few alarm bells, especially for parents who were extremely concerned about the well-being of their sons who were serving in the military. Anecdotally, anxious mothers and fathers were frantically checking to make sure that their children were unharmed.
Temasek Revealed’s oversight has also generated unnecessary impacts.
In the long term, it would become increasingly difficult for individuals to differentiate between what is fact and fiction online. Without the presence of solid fact-checking mechanisms, and the convenient tendencies towards sensationalism and speed, readers would naturally become more wary of these news pieces in the future. Temasek Revealed, with the irresponsible reproduction of the post, has inadvertently – albeit indirectly – undermined its own credibility, and marginally affected other sites.
This time round, rather than prefacing the update with the “exclusive” tag (presumably for attention-grabbing purposes), it should have established that the singular source was unverified, which would have suggested a degree of unreliability.
Reading, With A Pinch Of Salt
Representatives and their websites should verify the authenticity of their sources before the publication of articles, so as to maintain a decent level of accountability; however, the onus is also on readers, at the very least, to make appropriate distinctions. Be judicious, and think about a few aspects: first, the background of the website and writer; second, has the news been corroborated somewhere else; and third, can I verify the information?
So the next time, before one decides to spontaneously hit the share button, it would be worthwhile to consider the source’s provenance and the website’s track record (of growing significance) conscientiously.