Disinformation actors have been misusing the logo of a news organisation to create hoaxes. Masquerading as Berita Harian Online, they produce misleading content and also lift actual content from the news portal. Some of these stories have been widely shared online and caused confusion over public interest issues.
In this investigation, Faqcheck Lab found such posts dating as far back as 2015, and potentially further.
In an interview with FCL, Berita Harian’s executive editor of content and digital, Thillinadan Muniandy, said the news outlet is aware of outsiders using various versions of their logo.
He believes the perpetrators are small groups of people who are “being very naughty”.
In a number of such stories that went viral, the news organisation had to publicly refute the claims [1, 2, 3,4] and lodge police reports [Malaysiagazette, Berita Harian].
In 2019, a manipulated story even landed the news portal in hot water with the Selangor state government. Disinformation actors had changed the headline of a story on school closure due to haze. The falsified headline said all factories were to be closed instead.
“The Selangor state government was angry with us,” Thillinadan explained. “The police called me in for an interview because of that story and everyone who worked on it. It hurt the credibility and integrity of the paper.”
Examining a range of BH Online content since 2013, FCL discovered why it is easy to fall for inauthentic content that does not originate from it.
The BH Online logo has evolved over the years, sometimes with subtle design updates. Disinformation actors use different versions of the logo to mislead.
“Berita Harian has had many transformations take place on and off for a number of years, so there are a lot of old logos which we aren’t using anymore,” explained Thillinadan.
On 23 February 2021, FCL reported on a viral hoax carrying one such old BH Online logo. It appears to be one of the most commonly used logos in forged images.
The false post about COVID-19 anal swabs in Malaysia carries an image from another story and a false headline. It went viral after popular actor Zizan Razak shared it, causing confusion about swab testing methods in Malaysia. BH Online debunked the story.
Thillinadan confirmed this was an old logo and estimated it was discontinued around 2017.FCL is awaiting confirmation from BH on the exact date the logo was discontinued.
The current BH Online logo looks like this:
But the news portal continues to use the old logo for its Facebook Instant Articles. The feature allows publishers to post stories that are interactive and load quickly for Facebook’s mobile app. This logo does not appear on BH Online’s other platforms, including the web version of Facebook.
The existence of varying versions of the logo - even within BH Online itself - makes it harder for people to tell the difference and leaves them susceptible to deception.
FAKE SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS
Fake social media accounts also use different versions of the BH Online logo to trick readers into engaging with their posts.
On Facebook, such accounts typically post content from aggregate websites. These websites collect stories from other sources across the internet. The Facebook pages often do not link posts back to the source, which makes it harder to verify them. Much of the content is not shared from reputable news websites.
One such example is Berita Hairan[sic] Online, with a subtle misspelling of the word “Harian”. It has nearly 5,000 followers.
Thillinadan said BH Online is a target due to its extensive online reach and credibility. Based on Comscore, a media measurement and analytics company, BH Online is one of the most popular news portals in Malaysia. Adopting its logo would therefore help perpetrators to deceive the public into sharing their content widely.
SPOTTING A HOAX
To appear credible, inauthentic images copy elements of actual BH Online posts. In these images, perpetrators may change either the headline, the picture, or both. They may also make a duplicate without these changes.
Our disinformation playbook above highlights some key indicators. Here are two examples:
Disinformation is the deliberate creation of false content to mislead. It is usually motivated by the following factors - to make money, for political influence or to cause trouble out of mischief.
To achieve its aim, such content has to go viral. One of the best ways to go viral is by enticing the public to widely share sensationalised posts among their networks, mistakenly thinking they are providing helpful information.
In this investigation, FCL was unable to prove the motivation for all the disinformation. We were also unable to link the actors conclusively. But the outcomes suggest an intention to cause confusion out of mischief, a willingness to undermine a mainstream news organisation, and in some cases, to achieve financial reward.
FCL examined more than 20 social media accounts masquerading as BH Online, all with mixed levels of online activity. In their “About” section, a number of them have links that take readers to websites full of pop-up advertisements.
In some cases, the posts they share also take readers to such websites.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
By carrying a version of the BH Online logo, the hoaxes leverage on the public trust in a genuine news outlet to become widely circulated. The layer of truth gives a semblance of credibility to the inauthenticity.
Sensitising people to the disinformation playbook helps the public become more mindful when they encounter dubious content online.
If you come across any BH Online stories that you are uncertain about, you may get in touch directly with Berita Harian using the following ways.