SO, the famous nudist, Emil Kaminski was apparently not in Malaysia when the earthquake struck Mount Kinabalu. In a YouTube video on his channel, Monkeetime, he revealed how he was assumed to be part of the group of foreigners who stripped at the peak of Mount Kinabalu, based on his post on Facebook on June 8, which included comments on the earthquake and some pictures of him in his birthday suit on various peaks across the world.

The post immediately went viral, and according to Kaminski on his website, 450,000 people had seen and read the post in the span of 24 hours. He received a lot of hate mail and spiteful messages on his social media accounts, threatening him for his alleged involvement. Ironically, even notable media agencies shared the information obtained from his accounts without verifying if the information was true.

Making posts go viral is easy. All one needs to do is just click on “share”, repost, print screen or cut and paste them on their social media accounts. The problem is, not all that is shared, like Kaminski’s posts, are true. For instance, some pictures which were said to be of Rohingya victims are actually hoaxes.

And what about the social experiment by Citizens for Accountable Government Malaysia which saw them uploading a statutory declaration detailing how a former bank officer was supposedly sacked in 2013 for wanting to report a “high-profile transfer” into a “VVIP bank account”? Media portals published the news and even quoted statements which were supposedly issued by the banking group’s chairman, without thoroughly checking if the “facts” published in the blog were true. Conspiracy theories over the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and the Flight MH17 tragedy have also been freely circulated via WhatsApp and other social media outlets.

These instances make me wonder: has society once again become the passive audience Theodor Adorno talked about in “Prologue to Television”? The essay, which was published in 1953, discusses how television, which was then the latest technology in disseminating information to the masses, was used to disseminate ideologies to condition the masses, maintain status quo, and re-establish and reinforce behaviour which complies with the established orders. As masses or people who watch television are considered as consumers in the culture industry, and are docile and contented, they accept the messages imparted without question and see what is broadcast as reality.

The hype on making posts, status, pictures or videos go viral, in my opinion, is a mirror image of the society back in the 1950s, which were said to accept messages without questioning the truth. Very much docile and contented, members of the public seemed to have hungrily lapped up what was served to them and dished it out again for others to feast on. Not only that, both eras utilise the latest technology available to them,
in this case, the television in the 1950s and the social media in the
21st century.

Adorno also claimed in another essay, “Television As Ideology”, that the same contents were repeatedly shown on television and that caused the messages presented to be accepted as reality and the norm by viewers. In this case, making posts go viral makes it look like the information is based on facts and not fictional “because so many people including my intelligent friend, neighbour, best friend, boyfriend were the ones who shared, so it must be true”. This notion implicates that the trust and respect one has on their source, which they are usually closely related to, is remarkably high that it creates a spiral of silence — a disposition in which one merely follows others’ opinion to avoid being different.

Another problem ensues when members of the public not only share the information, but also go to “war” with each other online because of the fact that they strongly believe in it. It is quickly becoming a “weapon of mass destruction”, provoking and instigating fights and dissatisfaction amongst each other.

Why are we that easily manipulated, too accepting and docile? There are many ways in which information can be verified. A quick search on the Internet, especially on reputable news portals, and journals and books, can save you from spreading lies, fitnah (defamation) and embarrassment.

I count myself lucky because my training in journalism has made me quite a sceptic that I usually double or triple check if a fact is correct and try to look at things in several different angles. It has also taught me that information published online and offline may be true, but that there are also a lot of other related things which may not be published due to space constraints and restrictions. Hence, there is always another side to a story.

So, the next time you feel like clicking that “share” or “post” button, make sure you have checked and re-checked the facts, figures and information. There is no harm in reading articles obtained from various resources but make sure that you are smart enough to sieve through them for the truth before dishing them out on your social media sites. Once it is out on the World Wide Web, it would be difficult to take it back because you would never know how many people have read, shared or print screened it.

The writer is a senior lecturer with the School of Media and Communication Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, UKM

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