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fake news

In the dying days of the parliament dominated by Malaysia's now disgraced prime minister Najib Razak and those close to him the government passed its Anti-Fake News Act 2018. Its stated aims were sensible but in a country where the government had regularly arrested and held without trial those who expressed opinions contrary to those of or critical of the government and the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), its true purpose was widely regarded as a tool to further suppress legitimate dissent. Its repeal was an election promise that has been kept.

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In late 2017, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released its "final" report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. It was clear that the ATSB considered the issue unresolved but closed. A private enterprise search, with a contingency fee, subsequently ran for several weeks but turned up no further information. In the past few days, Malaysia's Safety Inspection Team 13 operating under the auspices of Malaysia's Ministry of Transport published what is called it's final report - but the transport minister says that, while searches have concluded and semi-final conclusions reached from the evidence gathered over four years, the book is not closed until definitive answers can be given. It's a desperate situation and, for those involved, time isn't healing.

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On 4th April, Mark Zuckerberg was in full PR mode: he'd posted family photos on Facebook, carefully emphasising that in his house both Jewish and Christian festivals are marked with food but no sign of frivolity and he'd been seen looking suitably tired. He'd brushed off, at least so far as America is concerned, his refusal to appear before a British Parliamentary Committee. And he'd had a bit of the news agenda taken away from his own, and Facebook's bad news stream by the shooting at YouTube. And so, on a conference call with media selected by Facebook's PR people, when he began to present what he calls "Hard Questions: Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg on Protecting People’s Information" he was not expecting anything like the BBC's Hard Talk. And so it proved: he set the agenda, questions were soft and answers were nebulous.

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Mark Twain has popular credit for coming up with“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” but he didn't think it up: that was Virgil in The Ænid translated by H Rushton Fairclough, he wrote "Forthwith Rumour runs through Libya's great cities, rumour of all evils the most swift, Speed lends her strength and she wins vigour as she goes, small at first, soon she mounts up to heaven and walks the ground with head hidden in the clouds." That, research shows, is exactly what happens on Twitter...

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Annabelle Natalie "Belle" Gibson, an Australian, claimed that she was 20 years old when, in 1999, she was told she had cancer. But that was a lie: she was only 8 years old in 1999. That was just the first in this shameful tale of exploitation of those who suffer from the disease. She's been convicted and fined. Many people think this is not enough.

My grandmother, who worked in a police station, used to say "you know when you are getting old when policemen look young." It's strange to realise that many of today's senior people in offices have never known a world without the internet or a phone in their pocket.

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It's been around since the latter stages of the US election, first being reported in October 2016 and it's a hoax.

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Fake news isn't all about the original picture: it's about how someone's deliberate, reckless or negligent - or malicious - version of what they see becomes the story, even when it's wrong.

The power of one individual to cause massive disruption by the abuse of a religious slur has been demonstrated by loss of an estimated GBP100,000 in just one month by BATA, Malaysia. It's just the latest in false or ludicrous accusations in the country by a small minority claiming to be protecting Islam and causing division, dissent and a major sense of humour failure.

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Has the media lost its collective senses and its sense of responsibility or is it now driven by a desire to be "across the story" as the BBC has, infuriatingly, been saying recently in both in its news broadcasts and on its website? Are headlines more important than facts? Has the tabloid objective of telling the story in 200 words or less finally become the norm? Has scanning twitter for hashtags and republishing comments found there taken the place of research? And is it possible to find real news without there being a Trump slant on it somewhere? Indeed, does the world have any other politicians except the nominal politician and arguably the most successful chancer in recent times, US President Trump?

In "The Edge of Madness," Michael Dobbs (of "House of Cards") fame writes of a mad senior officer in China who, off on a frolic of his own, creates a team of hackers who break into infrastructure projects all over the world, causing enormous damage and dangers. It was published in 2008. And when the Washington Post published an article saying that an electricity company in Vermont had been hacked and Russian code found, demonstrating the vulnerability of all systems, including the USA's national grid, Dobbs' novel seemed prophetic. But the Washington Post made up material parts of the story.

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