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.

Playtime for Saudi LEGO fans as new store opens in Jeddah

Updated 38 min 17 sec ago

Playtime for Saudi LEGO fans as new store opens in Jeddah

DUBAI: Following LEGO’s first Saudi store opening in Jeddah and the launch of its new Super Mario collection, we catch up with Urszula Bieganska, head of marketing, LEGO MEA.

Q: Tell us about the partnership with Nintendo and Super Mario.

A: It is a really exciting partnership for us; we have been working with Nintendo on launching Super Mario for quite a few years. The objective for both companies was to develop something of amazing quality, which is why we took our time working on the project.

Q: Where is it available and when is it launching?

A: It has already launched in Japan, and Aug. 1 was the global launch, although it has been available for pre-order prior to that date.

Q: Tell us about your new store in Jeddah.

A: We just opened the first Lego store at the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah and have launched the online store as well, which is going to carry all LEGO products available globally. For the first time ever, we actually have all the products available in Saudi Arabia.

Q: Why did you choose to open your first Saudi store at this time?

A: We were considering this for a long time, but we were also looking for the right partner to do it with. It’s a franchise model in partnership with the Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group. Once we established a relationship with this company, we were finally able to bring proper Lego stores to Saudi Arabia, which we’re incredibly excited about.

We opened the physical and online stores on the same day just to make sure that we catered to consumers’ different needs. Not everyone feels confident enough to go and shop in-store yet. Saudi Arabia is a huge country, and the physical store is only in Jeddah, so we wanted to invest in the e-commerce store to make sure we’re able to reach everyone.

Q: Do you have plans with any other Nintendo brands, such as Pokémon? 

A: That’s not something I’m able to talk about right now. We are focusing on Super Mario at the moment, but this is not just a one-year thing for us; it’s a long-term partnership with Nintendo. Also, it’s not limited to just one product. We have the starter set and a whole range of products through which fans can build their own Mario world. It also comes with an app that is free of charge and that you can download on your device to have an integrated experience. So, there are a lot of features that I think users will spend a long time exploring.

Q: What has the reception been like? There are a lot of adult fans too, for whom Super Mario could potentially have nostalgic value.

A: The interest has been quite overwhelming, and adults indeed make up a big part of the consumer base. There’s a lot of nostalgic sentiment.

Q: Can you describe your advertising and marketing strategy here in the Middle East and Africa region?

A: There’s so much excitement from fans surrounding this product, which has generated a lot of virality. This is positive especially right now when people are, to a large extent, operating in the home environment and are looking for different activities to stay occupied and entertained. So, through our campaign, we talked to both adult fans and parents because Super Mario is something that parents can relate to, and it’s exciting for kids as well.

Q: Did the pandemic and resulting lockdown affect your marketing activities?

A: We focused on the product reveal in different stages and started teasers as early as April-May 2020. We had to change our plans quite a bit! We had previously had a lot of event-focused advertising, and we wanted to have a big reveal where we would invite media and influencers in different global locations. But, due to the outbreak of the pandemic, we had to change our approach and strategy, which also put to the test the agility of our organization. We had to adopt a more virtual approach, so we sent over some sets for the biggest fans ahead of the launch. We also focused on social media advertising. But in the month of July, we actually pulled back a lot from investing in social media due to concerns regarding the safety of those platforms. We are posting organically, but we do not invest in promotion, and that will be the case for the foreseeable future until we conclude the conversations with these platforms.

Q: Did the pause in social media advertising negatively impact the campaign?

A: At the moment, no. To be honest, because we had already generated that interest and buzz, people kept coming back and checking in. Also, we benefited a lot from the fact that there is a great deal of excitement surrounding the two brands.