Photo courtesy of The Sun Daily

Historical events, as they happen, generate news and stories. Be they fake or real, the rumour machines almost always work overtime – dealing in conjectures, hearsays, and facts with equal enthusiasm and alacrity.

Post the historical Malaysian General Election 14 (GE 14) last month, the networks have been abuzz with stories of reprisals, political maneuvering, retribution, consequences, and vitriol. It is has become almost comical, and somewhat annoying.

For example, a recent news story, replete with supportive video did the feverish rounds on social media (Facebook, Twitter) and WhatsApp on the excesses of the Najib regime. The video shows stacks of cash, designer handbags, jewelry and other possessions of value being paraded by the police, as it won’t in Malaysia. The battle-cry was reaching a frenzied pitch with exclamations of high treason, wrongdoing, exhortations to the almighty for divine retribution and other more banal proclamations.

But on closer inspection and more steadied review of the messages, one realized that an opportunistic mischief maker seized on the prevailing sentiment to drum up support for his or her obscure cause or agenda. In re-releasing on social media a two-year-old official police media briefing video showcasing a bust of counterfeit goods and illegal smuggling gang in Kuala Lumpur, this opportunist was able to control the message designed to achieve a hidden agenda.

This painfully brings into sharp focus the malleable nature of public sentiment. Even in this day of technology-driven innovation and social communications can be even more easily manipulated. As old as the hills, this tactic has enabled Machiavellian actors to organise the persecution and domination of marginalized groups, exploiting the disadvantaged, justifying genocide and generally violence in unspeakable conditions.

There will always be fake news and the fake news merchants. We at various times become susceptible and inadvertent connectors and promoters of such dubious content. After all bad news (more importantly salacious news) sells; is more interesting and scandalous.

Instead of trying to fight the tsunami of fake news or prevent the “boiling of the ocean”, we need to develop a structure of trusted and dubious media sources. A tiering of news outlets based on their editorial integrity, their discipline in validating and investigating claims and fundamentally their responsibility for good news reporting.

Respected news media outlets earn the public trust. It is done over a significant period of time, conquering every single challenge to their ethics, integrity with the right action, governed by an immovable set of principles and ideals.

As communications practitioners, it is our duty to walk the thin line between integrity and high council in working with our clients, partners, friends and even journalists. It gets harder by the day to differentiate between commerce driven by selling stories and doing your duty to provide the facts and the news to society. But it must be done and the pendulum swing that is life will find its equilibrium.

Priority Consultants specializes in Public Relations, Content Marketing, Content Generation, and Marketing Communications and Events in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Hong Kong. To learn more about how we have helped numerous companies in Asia be more effective please connect with us here. We’d love to hear from you.

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