On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Herd mentality will only lead to self-destruction

Last week, newspaper offices  were bombarded with telephone  calls from concerned members of  the public who wanted to know  whether there was any truth to talk  of impending riots.

The impact of the rumours was  so bad
that it prompted a colleague  in London
to call the office to  check.

By Friday afternoon, the rumours had grown to monstrous proportions: A riot
involving Indonesians had broken out in Chow Kit.

The source of such loose talk was  a chat
group of some Internet subscribers. A printout of the cyber  conversation was made and faxed  all over the place with total disregard for
the consequences.

The people involved in the chat  group
had obviously failed to realise that such Internet discussions  are followed widely.

The one big flaw in such Internet 
postings is that much of the information in cyberspace need not be  the truth and that senders take no  responsibility for what they write.

The same applies to the messages in soc.culture.malaysia and  sang kancil where many writers  express their views with no respect  for the facts.

Many of these supposedly educated Internet subscribers sometimes show scant
sensitivity for the  feelings of

Slander and libel do not make a  person
courageous, neither is it  freedom of

On the same day, the capital was  abuzz
with rumours that Datuk Seri  Anwar
Ibrahim had resigned.

As the Deputy Prime Minister  pointed out
later in the day, there  was no basis to
rumours about his  imminent resignation
as Finance  Minister.

The rumours could have gained  credence
because on the same day  a regional
business daily had run a  front-page
story on the purported  differences
between Anwar and  Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir

The timing was most unfortunate, however.

These rumour-mongers, whether  they
realise it or not, do cause deleterious effects on the ringgit and  the stock market.

The talk that Anwar had scheduled a press conference at 4pm that  day was exploited by these irresponsible
elements to spread the  rumour that he
was announcing his  resignation.

Although the local media repeatedly told stock market dealers that  the press conference was on financial
matters, many chose to be  sceptical
because of its timing   near the market's
closing time.

It would help if the media offices  of
the various ministries state the  purpose
of their press conferences.

Knowing well the dicey position  of the
country's financial market, it  makes
sense to be clear about our 

The police have rightly warned  rumour-mongers
that they will be  arrested if found

The authorities and the media  should
refute rumours which appear on the Internet, and Internet users must be
prepared to face the  consequences if
they are irresponsible.

And Malaysians should learn to  be less
gullible. Sometimes, we  tend to believe
what we want to  believe.

Some of those who called The  Star would
not believe there was no  trouble. One
caller accused the media of covering up. Another said  that since nothing had been reported on TV,
there must be some truth  in what he had

Many of us choose to believe regular writers on the Internet. Even  when some of them have got their  facts wrong, their credibility in cyberspace
has amazingly not been  affected.

Like electronic viruses waiting to 
infect the personal computers of 
unwary users, half-truths and lies 
bide their time in cyberspace before pouncing on some gullible  surfer.

Because the local media is more 
responsible, it is perceived by 
some as docile and government controlled. As a result, it has suffered a
dent in its image among  those who hold
to the print-and-be damned approach as press freedom.

So, those hungry for dirt turn to  the
Internet which is uncensored  and

The confusion over the recent rumours should make us all sit up and  think. We want unimpeded access  to everything because we insist  that we are mature enough.

But if we forget ourselves and  join the
herd, we would only rush  headlong to

Let us not take for granted our  strong,
political leadership and our  tolerant
multi-racial society   more so in these
uncertain economic times.

The roller-coaster ride has just  begun.
More than ever, Malaysians  ought to
stick together and back  the Government
to overcome the  rough patches