If an esteemed historian like PJ Thum can be fooled by fake news, what hope is there for us?

By July 3, 2018Current

TL;DR – But if you take some effort to google, actually, you can avoid embarrassing yourself.

Singaporean historian PJ Thum became famous after he was grilled by Minister Shanmugam at the hearing of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods for six hours. Back then, he had made the audacious claim that the politicians of the PAP were the “clear source of fake news”. He based that claim on his work as a historian.

And PJ Thum appeared to be a historian with glowing credentials. He graduated from Harvard with a bachelors in East Asian Studies. He then went on to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and got a second degree in Modern History and Politics. He returned to Oxford on a Commonwealth Scholarship to get his Doctor of Philosophy. Since 2014, PJ has been a Research Associate at the Centre for Global History, University of Oxford; a Fellow of Green Templeton College, and coordinator of Project Southeast Asia, an initiative of the University of Oxford to expand its range of scholarly expertise on Southeast Asia. In 2015, PJ was elected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Sounds impressive, right? A historian with such sterling credentials must be a really smart person. Someone who won’t be easily fooled by fake news. Someone who would think critically of the things he reads, cross-references multiple sources to ensure that he comes to the right conclusions. Right?

Well… not quite. At least not in this particular instance.

PJ Thum posted this on Facebook recently:


 

Just in case it gets taken down, it’s a post with this cartoon:

Two versions of the same event. What is the truth?

Accompanying the cartoon, PJ Thum had the following remarks:

“Another from the archives:

“At the end of (Lee’s speech to the joint session of the US Congress), there was a sustained standing ovation… Even before he started his speech, there was a standing ovation – such is the Prime Minister’s reputation.” – Straits Times, 10 October 1985.

“(Lee) was addressing a sparsely attended joint session and drew polite applause.” – International Herald Tribune, 10 October 1985.

Hmmm… now I’m wondering just how much of what Singaporeans believed to be LKY’s vaunted global reputation was actually manufactured by the government-controlled media, in the days when there were no alternative news sources?”

PJ Thum questioned whether the media, controlled by the Singapore government, had manufactured Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s “vaunted global reputation”.

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Is he once again insinuating that the Singapore government is a source of fake news?

Thankfully, there’s a video of the speech

Someone added this video in the comments to PJ Thum’s post, and the video proved PJ Thum wrong.


 

It’s a video of Mr Lee Kuan Yew speaking at a Joint Session of the US Congress taken off C-SPAN.

And at the 3:13 mark, and also 4:09 mark the video shows people applauding in a packed room.

At the 9:47 mark, the video shows Mr Lee Kuan Yew receiving a standing ovation when he wrapped up his speech.

Now we can’t possibly know from the video alone if the Congressmen really respected Mr Lee Kuan Yew, but the fact was that the Joint Session was well attended, and that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had received a standing ovation.

Those are facts.

Captured on video.

Facts which directly contradict what PJ Thum had insinuated. Facts which can be found if Thum had taken a little bit care and effort to verify and check.

Which unfortunately makes PJ Thum look rather bad

This could mean one of two things.

The first possibility is PJ Thum is a sloppy historian who doesn’t dig deeper and look for more sources of information so that he can come to a proper (and accurate) conclusion.

Or the second possibility is that he had deliberately put up the post and asked a question in such a way that would induce people to conclude that the Singapore government is a source of fake news.

Of course, we don’t know which is the truth. We don’t believe that PJ Thum is that malicious as to deliberately spread fake news. But we also don’t think PJ Thum is stupid. So… It’s hard to say. Having said that, if PJ Thum can be so wrong on this incident, what else could he or we have gotten wrong?

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Whatever the case is, this incident has again demonstrated that we should all learn to google. And don’t automatically accept anything we read or what we’re told to be true. 

ALWAYS check and look for more sources of information. Otherwise, we might end up looking like fools for believing that some piece of fake news is true.

Editor’s update (5th July)

We’ve noticed that Ex-Ambassador-at-Large and Policy Advisor at MFA, Bilahari Kausikan, as well as ex-ST Editor, Bertha Henson, have shared this article on Facebook. Both added their own thoughts, so here,

(Featured image via)
 

 

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CRC

Author CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.

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