Last week saw the viral spread on Indonesia social media of the “news” that said Xiaomi smartphones could somehow spread the coronavirus.

Though logic-defying and blatantly fake, this piece of news was picked up by online news portals and made viral by many social media users. As an analyst at Maverick, the epidemiology of this fake news item is fascinating for me, as it contains lessons about its contagious pathways and what could be done in future outbreaks.

Coronavirus Xiaomi - Fake News

Using Newswhip, one of the listening tools that we subscribe to, we determined that the Ground Zero of the coronavirus-Xiaomi fake news outbreak was online news portal Suara.com on January 27. The story went viral because of the large number of interactions on its Facebook account.

Data obtained at 9:00 AM Jakarta time on January 29, 2020.

Although there is much interaction in the form of comments, it bode well for Xiaomi because most of its readers mocked those who were taken in by the fake news. The same findings were also found in the comment section of other media like idntimes.com and cnbcindonesia.com. Suara.com’s overwhelming number of interactions, however, suggests that it is probably the most influential online news portal for news of such nature.

What we also found in our social listening was that almost all articles in the period of January 27-29 quoted statements from relevant authorities, such as the Health Ministry and the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, which clearly said that the information about Xiaomi smartphones spreading the virus was fake news.

A result of this timely action by the authorities was that the number of interactions on posts about this news dropped drastically after its debut on 27th.

Data obtained at 9:00 AM Jakarta time on January 29, 2020.

What are the takeouts from this flash of virality on social media?

First, if there are credible third parties—such as the ministries in this case—that are willing to debunk the fake news, the issues will quickly go down. In this instance, the news of a handphone being able to spread a virus stretched credibility to begin with, but the timely intervention of authorities will be crucial in other instances. Brands would do well to cultivate their relationships with these authorities and to update them when issues like this break out.

Second, there is no real need for brands to give response to stories on social media and online news portals in every instance. In this case, Xiaomi chose to keep silent throughout and the storm in a teacup passed without any impact on the brand.

It is not a bad strategy and a safe one for Xiaomi. In the heat of the moment, many brands often have a knee-jerk reaction, which more often than not drags them deeper into crisis-like situations. Instead, Xiaomi waited it out and, in later developments, rolled out a campaign to fight hoaxes and fake truths titled “MikirBaruKirim” (“Think Before You Send”).

Alternatively, Xiaomi could have also used the incident as an opportunity to raise awareness of its brand. Xiaomi could, for instance, replied to the fake news by posting something like, “We know our smartphones are powerful, but surely not so powerful that it can even spread viruses?” Such a response could result in consumers appreciating the responsiveness and tongue-in-cheek brashness of Xiaomi, not a bad attribute to cultivate considering its target demographic. However, such a move would also have its risks as it could boomerang on the brand. It would have to test this response out on a small but indicative sample of netizens before executing it.

Third, brands should realize that stories like these spread with speed and like wildfire. It is important to be able to monitor its spread—not unlike epidemiologists looking at how a disease spreads—to plan an appropriate response.

To do this for our clients, we subscribe to online listening tools such as  Newswhip, Brandwatch, and Talkwalker, and we also train analysts like myself and my colleagues on what to look out for. That, combined with our consultants’ experience and knowledge on managing crisis and issues, will ensure that brands react optimally in any viral-like situations in the future.

 

Written by Fadhel Franda, Analyst

 

More blog posts from Maverick can be found here.

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