Unverified messages: To share or not to share?

PHOTO: AsiaOne

A few weeks ago, Frank Lee received a WhatsApp message containing a long list of places to avoid in Singapore where suspected and confirmed cases of the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) had allegedly been.

There were also stories circulating on social media that there was a shortage of surgical face masks.

All this information turned out to be untrue.

While the paranoia and fear is understandable, given that the virus has affected more than 64,000 people worldwide, the spread of fake news and misinformation online has exacerbated the panic, leading Singaporeans to wipe out staples in supermarkets.

Lee, a 62-year-old retiree, told AsiaOne: "Everyone can speak their mind and give their opinion... but what I hate the most is when people forward such messages without verifying themselves the veracity of the news."

While it is good to have multiple sources of information, every individual needs to be able to verify the accuracy of news, so as not to spread fake news that sow discord or create unnecessary panic in the community. This is why the sixth pillar of Total Defence, Digital Defence, was added to the other pillars of Total Defence - Military, Civil, Economic, Social, and Psychological Defence - in 2019.

We use digital technology in all aspects of how we live, work and play. Ordering our groceries online or getting the latest news from our phones is the new norm. But it also makes us vulnerable if we are not vigilant and careful. Imagine power shortages due to a cyber attack or our credit card details leaked just because we did not practise good cyber hygiene.

What about the rampant spread of fake news and online falsehoods that shakes our confidence and divides our community? The ferocity with which the WhatsApp messages made their rounds over the last few weeks is proof that it has become too easy for people to share digital information.

And more often than not, without much thought about the consequences - "the kiasu and kiasi mentality of Singaporeans", said Lee.

A Facebook post by the Singapore Psychological Society offers a detailed list of ways we can manage our "fight-or-flight responses". One is to do fact-checking, as "it could help to ground us, especially when we feel overwhelmed with inconsistencies in the news". Another way is to think twice about being a keyboard warrior.

The post explained: "Being a keyboard warrior could help air your grievances. But pause to think about how this generates additional stress and tension both within your social circle and the larger society."

In light of the recent coronavirus situation and, in particular, the raising of DORSCON alert level to Orange, we are...

Posted by Singapore Psychological Society on Friday, February 7, 2020

But where does this sense of being overwhelmed come from?

Gifford Chan, 35 and Principal Clinical Psychologist at Mind Care Therapy Suites, explained: "When people adopt the 'better safe than sorry' mentality, it means they are unclear about how serious the implications are and what they should do to help themselves."

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But that should not be the case.

Pre-empting the spread of inaccurate information, the Ministry of Health has issued various health advisories and set up a webpage with accurate information and what the community can do to nip the spread.

We have also seen Singaporeans choosing to be optimistic and united, sending appreciation and support to our frontline professionals as well as to fellow residents in their community.

Residents of Teck Ghee Parkview hand-made sanitisers and placed them in lifts for others to use. A Singaporean man and his wife spent around $1,000 on 17,000 surgical face masks and handed them out to the public at Punggol MRT station. One Singapore father and his two young daughters delivered food to healthcare workers. A fundraising campaign to treat medical staff to coffee has also raised close to $26,000 in just two days.

The spate of heartwarming news shows that hope and positivity can be stronger and more impactful than panic.

Total Defence and its increased relevance now

Total Defence Day is commemorated on Feb 15 every year to remember the day that Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942. It is a reminder of how we can be resilient as one nation in the face of challenges.

As Singapore works to contain COVID-19 here, the philosophy of Total Defence becomes even more relevant. This is a challenge not just for our frontline workers, but for each of us. Everyone can play their part, whether just by supporting our people or showing care for those affected - or verifying news sources before sharing them!

We have gone through bigger and more severe crises. We have been battered by challenges, but at the end of it, we have survived and thrived. We have shown and proven that Singaporeans are a tough and resilient bunch. Through whatever thrown our way, we have stayed united, showed care for others and had the fighting spirit to press on.

This story is brought to you in partnership with Nexus.