As the Indonesian island of Sulawesi reeled under a devastating quake-triggered tsunami last week, it also battled fake news and hoaxes that were being spread causing panic and unrest among people. False reports about the occurrence of another severe earthquake and a dam collapse were doing the rounds in the island where the death toll has already reached 1,400 and could rise further.
The spread of ‘fake news’ at the time of a calamity prompted the Indonesian ministry of information and communication to 32o press releases debunking the rumours and terming them as ‘hoax news’. Some of the ‘hoax news’ extend to even saying that the mayor of Palu, a city that was affected by the earthquake, was killed and that free flights were available for the families of victims. Another news going around was that Bili Bili Dam in South Sulawesi was about to burst because it bore cracks.
Another false report that triggered massive panic was that one more earthquake of 8.1 magnitude was about to hit the island nation after the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that shook the country Friday. BNBP, the national emergency agency, confirmed that the report was fake.
People also posted pictures of bodies claiming that they were from the earthquake when they actually were from other disasters elsewhere in the world.
The government has announced that it would be holding weekly briefings to curb fake news and help public ‘sort through the news’.
According to a news report in Guardian, people in Palu said false statements continue to spread. “I went around talking to people in Palu this morning and they were staying, we heard there will be the biggest earthquake tomorrow [Friday],” said Badarudin, a Palu resident. “I told them it is a hoax. If you leave your house people will come and steal, that is why they spread this fake message,” he said.
Badarudin said the fake news was mostly being spread by word of mouth, as electricity was still down in the city on Thursday and there were only limited places for people to charge their phones. The chief spokesperson for the BNBP, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, through Twitter, repeatedly informed people regarding false news reports, many of which relate to the eruption of the Soputan volcano on Sulawesi island on Wednesday.
Palu is not the first place which was enveloped with fake news during the time of a calamity, even Lombok in Indonesia faced a similar problem during the earthquakes that occurred in July-August.
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