The Philippines was rocked yesterday not by an earthquake, a tsunami, or a volcanic eruption, but by a series of hoax text messages warning against radiation coming from devastated city of Sendai. The text messages circulated all over the country, causing some parents to urge school authorities to cancel classes and allow their sons and daughters to go home.
Aside from text messages, the hoax was also disseminated by social media. Some of those who received the messages, posted them on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The strange thing about the hoax was its claim that the warning on the possible “radiated rain” broke through the BBC. It would have helped if those who received the messages, before posting them on their social networking accounts, looked up the story in the BBC. They would have known that there was no truth to it.
The spread of the text messages speaks much about the psyche of the Filipino. Despite the appearances of modernity and technology in the high-rises in Metro Manila, the claims of being the text-capital of the world, and the claims of being one of the most active online communities in the world, the Filipino people fell for text messages without verifying the facts behind what was being circulated. The spread of the text messages show how gullible we are as a people to rumors and false claims.
While there were several in the online community, more particularly on Twitter, who dispproved the text messages, very few in the offline community knew that the messages were a hoax. The general public, relying only on what they had received, and lacking the means to verify the rumor, easily gave away to fear and confusion.
It was only after officials from the government, particularly the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Managament Council and the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, issued a statement dispproving the hoax and allaying the fears, that the general public calmed down and finally had a picture of the real situation in the country
While the situation may have not amounted much and was immediate controlled, what worried me was how the average Filipino reacted to the messages. It seems that very few among us take the time to look things up for ourselves. We easily give away to anything which uses the name or logo of some news organization or government agency. It is weird considering that technology, as many would say, is now at our fingertips. I think, being in what is often called by others as “the Information Age,” it is important to remember that in times of disasters and confusion, we all take caution with the information we receive. When we receive messages which may seem too good to be true or too apocalyptic to be happening, we must never forget an old adage: Google is your friend!
On a side note, I must say, nobody sent me any of those hoax messages. What does that say about me?