Feeding logic into the rumour mill

Thinking things through helps to sift out the truth, but that’s not what gossipmongers and their audiences really want. 

Philip Golingai, The Star

THERE are people out there who love spreading viral messages above their pay grade. And there are zombies out there who uncritically believe such messages.

There are also those who are in the know and are aware that the viral messages are not true.

Last Sunday, the zombies popped up in the thousands on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. It was as if a mob of zombies had awakened to the smell of fresh brains.

An hour after midnight, I saw a flurry of messages on WhatsApp stating that the Prime Minister would be announcing that the 14th general election (GE14) was on.

The basis of this assumption was that later in the day, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would be holding an important press conference at the Umno headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

Many assumed “ini kali lah” (this is it) – the long-awaited GE14 was on.

“Waiting for Parliament to be dissolved. I think it is gonna be Monday. Let’s rock and roll, Najib,” posted someone who prides herself on being politically matang (mature).

If she had stopped for a moment to think about the logic of whether Najib would announce GE14, she would have realised it was illogical.

“Can’t be about GE14 as PM needs consent from King to dissolve Parliament. And if he did get consent, PM would not announce it at Umno headquarters. He would announce it at PM’s office,” was the message I copied and pasted to whoever personally messaged me to ask about the rumour.

As for the comments that I saw on messaging apps and social media, I decided to ignore them. It was tempting to contradict them, but there were so many such ignorant comments that it would be time-consuming to deal with them.

I know how tedious it can be because in the earlier days of political WhatsApp groups, I was drawn into marathon debates that lasted for 24 hours.

Nowadays, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be jantan (a man) in political discussions. If someone is too zombified in their political views, I just end it by saying, “Thanks for the (political) advice”.

Zombies, I’ve learned, are so black and white in their political views that they can’t see the grey in between. They see politics as a battle between angels and devils, and they don’t see that there can be angelic devils and devilish angels.

At around 9am that Saturday, it became clear from my in-the-know contacts that Najib’s announcement had something to do with Selangor Umno.

The zombies, however, still insisted that GE14 would be announced. And a fresh rumour began.

At around 11am, that fresh rumour came alive. Someone big was joining Umno. They claimed it was Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, the Umno vice-president who was suspended and then quit the party to form Warisan, a Sabah-based political party.

“Possible. But premature,” I told someone who asked me on WhatsApp. “Shafie’s door might be open but they’ve not approached him yet. Shafie is key in reducing the number of MP seats Barisan Nasional will lose in Sabah.”

What I’m told is that a few months ago, Mohd Shafie was approached on whether he would consider returning to Umno.

“I’ll consider if (Sabah Chief Minister) Tan Sri Musa Aman goes,” he said, and that was the end of the conversation.

The other big gun speculated to be returning to Umno was former Selangor mentri besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib. This rumour was very possible.

And it turned out to be true. It was an anti-climactic announcement as it did not live up to expectations.

The interesting thing is, who built up the expectation? The organiser, who had not managed the expectations. Some blame also goes to those who fed on the false rumour that Najib would announce GE14.

You would have thought the zombies would end there. No. Fresh brains were tossed into WhatsApp. The zombies had something new to eat.

This time, they spread the viral speculation that eight PKR assemblymen from Selangor were going to defect and join Umno together with Muhammad on Sunday.

The rumour sounded incredible.

I checked with a colleague who is in the know as she covers Selangor politics. She explained the mathematics of the rumour and it didn’t add up.

Based on her information, I did my own maths and here is what I copied and pasted whenever I was asked about the rumour.

“The mathematics of eight Selangor PKR YBs jumping is too high. That’s eight out of 13. If you minus PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, that’s eight out of 11.

“If you minus Elizabeth Wong and Dr Xavier Jayakumar Arulanan­dam (who are not Malay and therefore can’t join Umno), that’s eight out of nine.

“If you minus PKR Youth chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, that’s eight out of eight. If you minus Mat Suhaimi Shafiei (Azmin’s political secretary), that’s eight out of seven. And so on. There’s only one potential frog and he’s from X (state seat).”

Sometimes, a little bit of thinking helps in sifting through rumours.

But I get the funny feeling that zombies don’t actually care about the truth. They like to hear what they like to hear.

And rumours are like fresh brains for them. They. Need. Fresh. Brains.