High on hoaxes

Good jour­nal­ism is all the more im­por­tant in this age of so­cial me­dia hoaxes.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BRATS - The writer is a mem­ber of the BRATs young jour­nal­ist pro­gramme. To ap­ply for BRATs 2014, log on to face­book.com/star­brats. Ap­ply now and you could even win a trip to Scot­land! Email brats@thes­tar.com. my for more info.

THE beauty of the In­ter­net is that it is a medium that’s open to ev­ery­one, for them to post ev­ery­thing from text to pic­tures to video.

But it’s also be­com­ing one of the big­gest prob­lems with the dig­i­tal sphere. Can we be­lieve any­thing we read or see on the In­ter­net at all these days? Can we be­lieve even news spread by word-of-mouth, con­sid­er­ing the source of it was prob­a­bly some at­ten­tion-grab­bing head­line on a link on a Face­book time­line?

Take for ex­am­ple the re­cent hoax that the cre­ator of the wildly pop­u­lar smart­phone game Flappy Bird, Dong Nguyen, had com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Plenty of people were talk­ing about it, and it seemed prob­a­ble given that Nguyen had spo­ken about strug­gling with the sud­den fame the game’s un­ex­pected pop­u­lar­ity brought about. Nguyen even re­moved it from mo­bile app stores.

And even as I’m writ­ing this, a hoax about LA Clip­pers star Blake Grif­fin slap­ping Justin Bieber at a Star­bucks was busted – not af­ter who­ever re­leased it got what they wanted, whether it was traf­fic to their web­site, or just to hu­mil­i­ate Bieber.

But then there are hoaxes that seem so far-fetched that you’d as­sume no one would fall for them, and yet people do, and the “news” goes vi­ral.

Case in point? The ru­mour that Fast And Fu­ri­ous star Paul Walker had ac­tu­ally faked his own death – with the help of his girl­friend. Thank­fully this hoax was so crazy, it didn’t take too long for it to get busted. The emo­tional dam­age to Walker’s griev­ing girl­friend, daugh­ter and all his friends and fam­ily, how­ever, would have been done.

That’s why it’s im­por­tant for us to not over-re­act to sen­sa­tional sto­ries. At BRATs, part of our jour­nal­ism train­ing is learn­ing how to re­search, fact-check and prac­tise ac­cu­rate, fair and bal­anced reporting. These are val­ues that seem to be slowly dy­ing out, with so many web­sites will­ing to share un­con­firmed news to in­crease traf­fic, and so many read­ers keen to sim­ply be the first to share some­thing sen­sa­tional.

Our job as young people, and young jour­nal­ists in par­tic­u­lar, is to make sure we don’t fall into that trap. Why not share some im­por­tant news, cur­rent af­fairs sto­ries or in­spir­ing ar­ti­cles in­stead? Now that would be the real beauty of the In­ter­net.

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