The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

TMID Editorial: Don’t believe all you see on social media

Wednesday, 1 December 2021, 07:50 Last update: about 3 months ago

“Happening now in Msida”.

That’s what the message accompanying the video said. The footage showed cars being dragged away in floods in Msida.

It was raining heavily at the time the message started to make the rounds on Whatsapp and the social media last week. It was the day when the Civil Protection Department was reporting “one of the worst storms” ever to hit Malta.

The scene in the video was terrifying. The force of the water was tremendously strong as it swept away cars. The first thought was whether people were trapped in the vehicles, and how they could be helped.

But nothing of the sort was happening at the time. The “now” turned out to be “not now” at all.

It was footage that had been taken a while ago.

Someone, somewhere, had started the ball rolling by sending the “fake” video – “fake” because it was accompanied by a message saying that it had been shot a few minutes before. Soon enough, others shared it and multiple people received it, with many believing that it was happening there and then.

The way it was being distributed at the time it was being sent – remember, it was raining heavily, and the CPD was busy rescuing people who were really in difficulty in those crucial moments – led to so much panic and distress.

Unfortunately, sections of the traditional media fell into the trap, and uploaded the “old” footage, reporting it as if it had taken place just minutes before. There were other people with a great following on the social media who also shared it, making the situation even worse.

All it took was a few phone calls to verify that what was being shown in that footage was not happening “now” but had happened in the past. The local council as well as owners of shops in the vicinity, contacted by The Malta Independent, all said that, yes, there were the usual floods in Msida at the time, but no cars were being swept away by the current and no person was trapped in vehicles in that particular moment.

The wrongful distribution of the “fake” video could have cost lives.

Imagine if the Civil Protection Department had rushed to Msida thinking that there were people who needed assistance (when there were none), while others who really needed their help were left waiting. In spite of increasing their resources for the day, the CPD was stretched out and in fact made it clear that it was giving priority to situations where lives were in danger. That Msida “fake” video showed people in danger, but it was something that had taken place a while ago. Others, in other places, needed help at the time that video of Msida was making the rounds.

One cannot expect the police to serve as social media watchdogs, but it would not be a bad idea if when people are caught sharing “fake” information which could, as was this case, be potentially dangerous to others, or cause the CPD to waste time and resources on something that was not actually happening, then action is taken against the perpetrators.

Maybe, one day, the social media will not continue to be used for fake information.

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