A publicity stunt by an American video games publisher, which spread made-up news of an explosion in Singapore on social media platform Twitter, has sparked furore among netizens here and abroad.
At 1.03am on Tuesday, "breaking news" of "an explosion on the North bank of the Singapore Marina" was posted on the official Twitter account of video game Call Of Duty by its publisher Activision.
Over the next five hours, about 20 tweets were sent to the account's 2.9 million followers, including updates that martial law had been declared in Singapore and a quarantine zone had been set up.
At 5.37am, the account sent a final tweet, saying: "This was a glimpse into the future fiction of #BlackOps3." It was the only time it acknowledged the tweets as fiction by referring to the Call Of Duty: Black Ops III video game to be released on Nov 6 worldwide.
The first level of the game will be set in Singapore where players will investigate the disappearance of a Central Intelligence Agency base here.
The stunt drew criticism here and abroad. International video game news sites like Polygon and IGN called the tweets "tacky" and "irresponsible", while the hundreds of tweets in response to the stunt said it was in poor taste.
"Advertising should never be done by using a disaster with real locations and names and tricking people into thinking you are a news portal," said Singapore Call Of Duty player Pearson Wu, 25, a graphic designer.
However, another local gamer Neo Chua, 33, a sales manager, said Singaporeans are not likely to believe the false news. "The tweets make reference to things like 'Singapore Marina' and 'Coalescence Corporation' ... Locals won't fall for it, although people living overseas might," he said.
Other netizens here made light of it, with some saying one of the tweets - "citizens living in the area are being asked to stay in their homes, and to keep their doors and windows closed" - referred to the haze.
Communications experts here think that while such a marketing campaign could be construed as tasteless, it is undeniably effective.
Lars Voedisch, managing director of Precious Communications said: "I think it's interesting because it uses disguise and sensationalism to create awareness and spread the word."
But Bryan Tan, a partner at Pinsent Masons law firm, said anyone who tweets such false information can be charged under the Telecommunications Act. If the tweet refers to a bomb, an offender faces a fine of up to $50,000, a jail term of up to seven years, or both.
In response to queries, the police advised "against spreading unsubstantiated information as this may generate unnecessary public alarm, causing fear and panic".
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