MH370: Panning for the truth

MH370: Panning for the truth

MALAYSIA - When an AirAsia X pilot posted comments on Facebook last week criticising the Malaysian Government's move to declare that the missing MH370 had fallen into the Indian Ocean, little did he realise his words would land him in hot water.

And he probably learnt about the consequences of his deed through social media, too.

That same day, AirAsia boss Tan Sri Tony Fernandes confirmed on Twitter that the senior first officer had been suspended from work pending an internal investigation.

The pilot has since removed his original post and apologised, explaining that "it was written in anguish, heavily influenced by my emotions at the time".

He further stated that "it is not my intention to particularly accuse any party and or cause anger to others".

Ever since MH370 disappeared seemingly without a trace on March 8, social media, loosely described as websites and applications used for social networking, has shown not only the power to enlighten but also its darker side.

As soon as the plane went missing, social media went abuzz with "concerned netizens", "wannabe" aviation experts, conspiracy theorists, hackers and inconsiderate pranksters posting unsubstantiated stories - though well-meaning - and callous comments, hurting those with family members or loved ones on board MH370.

At one stage, unverified information coming through the social media were so overwhelming that one woman made an impassioned plea on the Malaysia Airlines Facebook page: "I hav 3 loved ones on the flight and the unconfirmed rumours contribute to extreme emotional rollercoaster."

Malaysia Airlines' group chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya has also appealed to the people to bear in mind the effect rumours had on the families of all those on board.

"Their anguish and distress increase with each passing day, with each fresh rumour, and with each false or misleading report," he said on Friday.

As numerous questions remain unanswered about the ill-fated MH370 and search efforts continue on the vast Indian Ocean, social media practitioners and loved ones are appealing to netizens not to speculate and spread false reports because these can be viewed by millions in a matter of minutes.

Even posts, photographs and videos that are limited to a select group can end up being shared, re-posted or saved as a screenshot for all and sundry to see without the original author's permission.

"Self-regulation is important," says University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus) associate professor of media and cultural studies Dr Joanne B. Y. Lim.

People greatly underestimate how many can view their posts, adds Dr Lim.

"Control shouldn't come from top-down.

"Social media users need to be more responsible about what they share and to be critical of their sources.

"Think and re-think your purpose for posting and implications of your post or comment.

"If you have at least 400 friends on Facebook, know that the reach of your post could be over four times that number - re-posts, re-tweets and replies increase visibility," she says, adding that social media becomes dangerous when otherwise credible, trustworthy sources draw speculation or unverified information from them and report these as truths.

Digital media trainer Julian Matthews says everyone, from amateur to professional, holds the power of the media in their hands.

Unlike before, everyone is a publisher now and it only takes an instant for one person - who might just be a kid - to share a video with millions (of people), he says.

But describing social media as a medium where unverified reports, fake prophecies and speculation have spiralled out of control is naive, he stresses.

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