Fake news sparks panic among Indonesia quake victims

The fake alerts about more earthquakes in Indonesia spread mostly through WhatsApp and other messaging services. (AFP)
Updated 08 October 2019

Fake news sparks panic among Indonesia quake victims

  • Fears about aftershocks have been aggravated by a stream of hoaxes and fake news that warned a tsunami-generating quake was about to strike

JAKARTA: Thousands of Indonesians are still in shelters nearly two weeks after a deadly earthquake sparked a stream of fake news and hoaxes warning that an even bigger disaster was looming, the government said Monday.

The local government has declared a state of emergency until Wednesday, with nearly 135,000 people in evacuation shelters and tents.

Many displaced people are too scared to return to their homes in the remote Maluku islands after the area suffered more than 1,000 aftershocks following a 6.5-magnitude quake on Sept. 26 that killed dozens and damaged scores of homes and other buildings, the agency said.

Terrified residents ran into the streets following the quake, which sparked landslides that buried at least one of the victims.

The strong jolt killed 37 people, including several young children, and injured dozens of others.

More than 6,000 houses were damaged, according to official figures.

Fears about aftershocks have been aggravated by a stream of hoaxes and fake news — mostly on WhatsApp and other messaging services — that warned a tsunami-generating quake was about to strike.

“It’s up to you if you want to believe me or not, but I talked with my relative and apparently Ambon is going to sink in the next few days,” said one message circulated on WhatsApp.

National disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said the fake news was making a bad situation worse.

“There are so many hoaxes about a bigger earthquake and tsunami,” he told AFP.

“People are scared and so they chose to stay in shelters,” Wibowo added.

Even some whose houses weren’t damaged in the quake have refused to go home despite efforts to convince them it was safe, Wibowo said.

“Many people also thought they’re not allowed to go back during the state of emergency, which is actually false,” he added.

The Southeast Asian nation is one of the most disaster-prone nations on Earth.

It experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where tectonic plates collide.

Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island left more than 4,300 people dead or missing.

In 2004, a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.


Zuckerberg appears in Congress as Facebook faces scrutiny

Updated 23 October 2019

Zuckerberg appears in Congress as Facebook faces scrutiny

  • The company seems to spark public and official anger at every turn these days
  • Lawmakers from both parties and top regulators have criticized Facebook’s plan for the new currency

WASHINGTON: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is again appearing before Congress to face questions about his company’s massive market power, privacy lapses and tolerance of speech deemed false or hateful.
Zuckerberg has been summoned to testify at a hearing Wednesday by the House Financial Services Committee on Facebook’s plan to create a global digital currency, which has stirred opposition from lawmakers and regulators in the US and Europe. But the full range of policies and conduct of the social media giant with nearly 2.5 billion users will be under the public glare.
It’s the Facebook chief’s first testimony to Congress since April 2018.
The company seems to spark public and official anger at every turn these days, from its shift into messaging services that allow encrypted conversations to its alleged anticompetitive behavior to its refusal to take down phony political ads or doctored videos.
Lawmakers from both parties and top regulators — including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell — have criticized Facebook’s plan for the new currency, to be called Libra. They warn that it could be used for illicit activity such as money laundering or drug trafficking.
Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who heads the Financial Services panel, this summer asked Facebook to not move forward with the currency and a digital wallet called Calibra that would be used with it. Waters has called Libra “a new Swiss-based financial system” that potentially is too big to fail and could require a taxpayer bailout.
Several high-profile companies that had signed on as partners in Facebook’s governing association for Libra have recently bailed, spelling a potentially rough road for the project. But many experts don’t believe it’s doomed.
Zuckerberg, in written testimony prepared for the hearing, aimed to reassure lawmakers that his company won’t try to evade financial regulators as it readies Libra.
Facebook “will not be a part of launching the Libra payments system anywhere in the world unless all US regulators approve it,” he said. That’s a stronger statement than Facebook official David Marcus made to Congress in July, when he said the company will not activate Libra until it has “fully addressed regulatory concerns and received appropriate approvals.” Marcus leads the Libra project.
Zuckerberg is striving to defend Libra and alleviate concerns that the currency could sidestep regulators. Analysts say Libra could avoid regulation and launch in countries where it’s not getting pushback, but this doesn’t appear to be Facebook’s intention.
Instead, Zuckerberg is pushing an optimistic vision of Libra and what it could mean for people around the world who don’t have access to bank accounts.
While some critics see the recent exodus of some Libra partners as evidence of the plan’s likely failure, US regulators appear to view it as enough of a threat that they are considering the possibility of the Fed launching its own competitor currency.
“At the Federal Reserve, we will continue to analyze the potential benefits and costs of central bank digital currencies, and look forward to learning from other central banks,” Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed’s board of governors, said in a speech last week.
There is concern among regulators that the massive reserve created with money used to buy the new currency could supplant the Fed and destabilize the financial system, and that consumers could be hurt by Libra losses.
Zuckerberg also played the China card in his remarks, urging regulators to act quickly “While we debate these issues, the rest of the world isn’t waiting. China is moving quickly to launch similar ideas in the coming months,” he said.
The Facebook CEO also has cited competition from China as a compelling reason against breaking up the company.
The Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee are all conducting investigations of Facebook and the other huge tech companies amid accusations of abuse of their market power to crush competition.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, has advocated breaking up Facebook and other tech behemoths. She recently ran a fake political ad on Facebook taking aim at Zuckerberg to protest the company’s policy of not fact-checking politicians’ speech or ads in the same way it enlists outside parties to fact-check news stories and other posts.
In a major speech last week at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg defended the company’s refusal to take down content from its platform it considers newsworthy “even if it goes against our standards.”
Facebook, Google and Twitter are trying to oversee Internet content while also avoiding infringing on First Amendment rights. The pendulum has swung recently toward restricting hateful speech that could spawn violence.