Monday 19 December 2016

There's real news, there's fake news & then there's satirical fake news

I’m sorry.

I did not start it, but I may have contributed to it.

Earlier this month, you might have read this headline on your Facebook timeline: “President Tan invites Thailand’s new king to visit Singapore to eat KFC.”

As much as I like KFC (especially the Red Hot Chicken coated in paprika batter), there is some incongruity in the notion that our head of state would invite Thai royalty to eat fast food that is readily available in the king’s home country.

You might have at first dismissed this as fake news from a local satirical site like New Nation, whose tagline is “50% real news”.

But then it’s not from the New Nation — it’s from The Straits Times.

So your next thought was that someone at The Straits Times was going to get fired.

But as it turned out, anyone could’ve copied the link to The Straits Times article, pasted it on Facebook and changed the headline.

The paper finally addressed this issue last Monday:
“The users could have verified the veracity of the headline by simply clicking the Facebook link through to the article.

“Not only was the headline to the linked article different, the story made no mention of fried chicken or any invitation to consume it.”

But KFC doesn’t sell only fried chicken. You could have the Fish Ole Burger too, you know?

Alas, the article also doesn’t mention the Fish Ole Burger or any invitation to consume it, so the KFC headline is obviously fake.

Fake news has become such a problem that last week, Facebook announced plans to fight fake news because every day is not April Fool’s Day.

In a way, I blame The Onion.

Started in the late 1980s in the same US town where I went to college — Madison, Wisconsin — the Peabody award-winning satirical newspaper became well-known for its humorous fake news stories like “Kim Jong-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012”, which the Chinese Communist Party took seriously.

The Onion begot New Nation, which begot whoever thought it was funny to embellish The Straits Times headline.

I once laughed at former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Hwee Hua for sharing on Facebook an Onion article as fact.

But when a man shot up a US pizza restaurant two weeks ago after believing a fake news story, it’s not so amusing any more.

At least it wasn’t a KFC restaurant.

While it may be unfair to lump The Onion and its satirical ilk with the conspiracy theorists who claimed the pizzeria harboured a child abuse ring, it’s tricky enough to tell real news from fake news without having to make the distinction between fake news and fake news intended as satire as well.

And here is where I have to take some responsibility too.

In July, when radio DJs Glenn Ong and Jean Danker announced that they had finally set a wedding date five years after announcing their engagement, I wrote a column pleading — I mean, asking to be invited to the wedding.

You know, since I missed his first two.

Ong was previously married to fellow DJs Kate Reyes and Jamie Yeo. Not at the same time, of course.

That article might have given the impression that I wanted very badly to be invited to Ong’s third wedding, which was on Friday.

For that, I apologise.

It was fake news. It was satire.

For the record, I don’t really care whether I was invited to the wedding.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m deeply hurt that I didn’t get a invitation.

I mean, everybody was there! Hossan Leong, Beatrice Chia, the guy who used to date Joanne Peh before she married Qi Yuwu — everybody!

A photo posted by Hossan Leong (@hossanleong) on

A photo posted by lobinhoot (@lobinhoot) on

A video posted by Glenn Ong (@glennn) on

Except me.

But like I said, just because I devoted an entire column to listing all the reasons I should be invited, it didn’t mean I actually wanted to be invited.

How hard-up do you think I am?

I had better things to do on Friday night.

I had a very delicious KFC Red Hot Chicken meal.

And that’s the truth.

- Published in The New Paper, 19 December 2016

EARLIER: Please invite me to your wedding, Glenn Ong (I missed your first two)