Vocational college graduate Nur Farahanis Ezatty Adli was fined RM70,000 by the Sessions Court in Ayer Keroh, Melaka, last month for offering dental services without a licence. It was reported that the bogus dentist had learnt her ‘orthodontic’ skills online. PIC BY MUHAMMAD HATIM AB MANAN

MY son, Andi, loves football. A player for the AT Hulu Langat U8 team, he attends football practice four times a week. He also loves watching football matches online, analysing the strategies and tactics, especially of his favourite player Thanabalan and Ronaldo, and tries to replicate them on the football pitch.

I must admit, I myself resort to ideas from the Internet, especially on YouTube, to create a variety of different hijab styles. Not only that, I love to try out new recipes, based on the videos shared on Facebook and YouTube because they always looked scrumptious and easy to be made. My favourite tiramisu recipe, for instance, was acquired from YouTube.

The wealth of knowledge available on the Internet is astounding. From game cheats to holiday tips, practice tests and countless tutorials, many are turning to the world wide web for answers, when they have a nagging question.

As a media and communications scholar, this trend is indeed worrying. The surge of information available makes it difficult to verify each and every piece of information, and at times, can create false hopes and confidence in one’s abilities and skills.

On the other hand, people also panic easily and more often than not, make misguided decisions based on what they assume is factual information they collected online.

Now, some may argue that not everyone is gullible. Maybe not, but the recent case of the bogus dentist gave an interesting glimpse of our currently technology savvy and globalised society.

The bogus dentist was said to have learnt her “orthodontic” skills from the many hours she spent online, probably scrutinising each and every procedure she thought would benefit her entrepreneurial ideas. Her “clinic” was operated from a homestay, which under normal circumstances would raise some red flags, but her significantly cheaper fees and word-of-mouth promotion successfully attracted streams of new customers.

Her case caused an uproar, especially among the medical fraternity because the 19-year-old was so confident and assured of her skill, which would take many years to master. Many were also dumbfounded as to how people fell prey to her dubious business.

Unfortunately, hers is not the only business which rakes in the thousands, by taking advantage of people’s trust and naivety.

The recent housing scam involving Boy Iman also attracted a lot of interest from the public. In the scam, which is currently under investigation, houses were offered at below-market price to buyers, such as a bungalow for only RM60,000.

What about the alleged success of bomoh tulang in fixing fractured bones and slipped discs? The videos, which were widely circulated online, depicted how an “alternative medical expert” utilised tools such as a hammer and ruler in a procedure to treat patients.

My husband, who is an orthopaedic surgeon, often laments at the decisions of people who seek alternative treatments for their fractured bones, because more often than not, these people will show up at the hospital again, in a condition that is sometimes worse than if a medical intervention was done in the first place.

Upon doing some online observation, I realised that many of these businesses make their profit by banking on testimonials by supposedly satisfied customers. Not only that, if you go through the comment sections, you can see a lot of people being tagged by a family member or close friend, with suggestions for them to try a treatment or an investment or a product, in case it works out for them because apparently many have benefited from it.

Advice from someone who is highly regarded by an individual, especially coupled with presumably believable testimonials, often creates trust among people. This is in line with the concept of opinion leaders, which stemmed from the two-step-flow theory propounded by communications scholars, Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz.

I honestly believe, in this day and age, anyone and everyone can be an opinion leader. The ease of sharing information online makes it simple for one to voice and share his opinion, regardless of the credibility. Thus, as an individual in a highly networked society, it is crucial that we equip ourselves with the basic skills in verifying and validating information obtained online or offline. We cannot rely solely on the government to debunk or provide the truth on issues and claims.

An easy way that I would like to suggest is for media users to cross-check the information accessed using the VIA concept. An acronym for Validate, Independent and Accountability, I highly propose that media users routinely validate and verify information, check if the person relaying the information has anything to benefit from it and that the source of information is liable and accountable for the things they shared online and offline.

Only then, I believe, can one make a wise and sound decision.

sabariah@ukm.edu.my

Dr Sabariah Mohamed Salleh is an advocate of media literacy because she believes that being media literate will empower society and create social change. She is currently involved in developing MOOC contents on Media Literacy, funded by the European Union through the Erasmus+ grant.

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