From ‘Singapore PM Lee unfriends Yudhoyono? Indonesian media duped by spoof’, 12 Feb 2014, article by Zakir Hussein, ST
WHEN a satirical website weighs in on a serious bilateral dispute with the potential to escalate, expect some to fall for it. Several Indonesian media outlets, under pressure from a 24/7 news cycle, ran a spoof by Singapore’s NewNation.sg headlined: “PM Lee unfriends Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Facebook, untags him from photos”.
And at least one afternoon daily, Harian Terbit, ran a page one article on Wednesday on the supposed virtual rift, headlined: “Singapore PM-SBY cut off friendship”, with a prominent Facebook logo between pictures of the two leaders.
…While both countries’ leaders have active public Facebook pages – Prime Minister Lee has more than 271,000 followers and President Yudhoyono more than 1.8 million – neither leader maintains a Facebook account, at least not one that’s public, that enables them to befriend and, in Facebook parlance, unfriend, another user of the social networking site.
…Several of the online news websites soon realised their mistake, rewrote their stories and ran corrections. And at least two ran reports on how some, themselves included, fell for the hoax. The VivaNews website headlined its piece: “Singapore PM unfriends SBY, Indonesian media fell for the hoax”. The website of the largest national newspaper, Kompas, was also taken in. It later amended its headline to “KRI Usman-Harun controversy: Satire on Singapore PM blocking President SBY’s Facebook spreads”.
In a correction below that report, the website reproduced the erroneous version it ran a few hours earlier, based on the New Nation spoof. But some on social media had yet to realise the satirical report was a hoax. A commentary on the hardline site, voaislam, seemed to take the spoof for real, saying the reported action “has crossed the boundaries” and calling on Indonesians to be brave in standing up to Singapore.
But a reader on a Kompas forum commented: “This is a severe hoax. How could something concerning ties between two countries become a laughing matter? If taken seriously, the consequences could be fatal.”
New Nation aspires to be the Singaporean version of The Onion, the original news spoof site that has a reputation for fooling despot governments into taking their news seriously. Iranian media lapped up a fake story about rural Americans willing to vote President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Obama. China was convinced that Kim Jong Un was voted the Sexiest Man Alive. Bangladeshi journalists believed them when Neil Armstrong reportedly admitted that his moon landing was a hoax. New Nation have even conned our own nation’s biggest troll site, Stomp, with a fake article about a woman fainting at a nomination centre for ‘opposition unity’, and seem mighty proud of it. And now our Indonesian neighbours have just been hoodwinked by a joke about PM Lee breaking up with SBY on Facebook. Problem is, the New Nation article wasn’t very funny to begin with. And maybe they didn’t actually ‘fall for it’ but deviously planned this all along just to aggravate matters between the two nations.
It is a fact that both leaders have Facebook accounts, and to have one ‘unfriending’ another after years of painful name-calling in a final act of political tit-for-tat isn’t THAT far fetched. New Nation’s article was eerily similar to a post by Mr Brown semi-jokingly calling for PM to ‘unfriend SBY on Facebook’, accompanied by a comic portraying the leaders engaging in a juvenile tiff. I’m not aware of any country that has waged war on another over a silly parody, but this embarrassment comes right after our ministers have been seemingly appeased by Indonesia’s proclamation that they bore ‘no ill will’ towards us after naming a navy ship after a couple of ‘state actors’, possibly the worst euphemism for terrorists ever.
It also doesn’t help if your ‘spoof site’ has a title that dozens of ‘serious’ news organisations share as well. Like ‘New Nation News‘ and UK’s New Nation (‘number 1 black newspaper’). Maybe editor Belmont Lay (also part of the Mothership.sg) should change the tagline back to ’50% REAL news’ from the current ’50% lucky news’ (50% unlucky that the Indonesians thought it was for real). Or consider something other than ‘New Nation’ altogether. Like ‘The Chap Chye’ or something.
Whether or not the Indonesian media were plain suckers or were deliberately provoking a reaction, this isn’t exactly the best time to prank a country in a position to curb the impending haze and cooperate with their neighbours, especially so after we ‘uninvited’ their top brass from our airshow. I’m not sure if by starting a joke about bilateral ties being severed over Facebook we risk letting the Indonesians have the last laugh while we tear not from the unintentional comedy of their journalists, but eventually, if the winds of change don’t blow in our favour, from their smog in our eyes.