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.


Expelled reporters leave China after headline row

Updated 24 February 2020

Expelled reporters leave China after headline row

  • The journalists work for the WSJ’s news section, which is not linked to the editorial and opinion pages

Two Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporters left China on Monday after being expelled over a controversial headline in an op-ed that angered Beijing.

Three reporters were ordered out of the country last week over what Beijing deemed a racist headline that the journalists were not involved in writing — marking one of the harshest moves against foreign media in years.

But analysts noted that the decision to revoke their credentials came a day after Washington tightened rules on Chinese state media operating in the US — raising suspicion that Beijing had retaliated.

The WSJ opinion piece — headlined “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia” — was written by a US professor who criticized the Chinese government’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak.

China’s foreign ministry said it was “racially discriminatory,” and as the newspaper wouldn’t apologize, the three reporters had their press cards revoked.

Deputy bureau chief Josh Chin and reporter Chao Deng, both US nationals, as well as reporter Philip Wen, an Australian, were given five days to leave the country, according to the Journal.

The journalists work for the WSJ’s news section, which is not linked to the editorial and opinion pages.

Decoder

Title

Content...

A letter from 53 WSJ reporters and editors called for the newspaper’s leadership to apologize, according to reports in the Washington Post, saying the headline was “derogatory.”

An AFP reporter saw Chin and Wen, wearing face masks, check in for their flight at Beijing’s main international airport and then pass through security.

Deng, the third journalist affected, had been reporting from Wuhan — the epicenter of the virus outbreak which has killed over 2,500 people.

The WSJ confirmed that she was still in the quarantined city.

The newspaper’s publisher said the outlet was “deeply disappointed” with China’s decision and that none of the journalists being expelled had “any involvement” with the opinion piece in question.

Decoder

Sick man of Asia

The phrase “sick man of Asia” originally referred to China in the late 19th and early 20th century, when it was exploited by foreign powers during a period sometimes called the country’s “century of humiliation.”