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Singapore PM Lee "unfriends" Yudhoyono? Indonesian media duped by spoof

Published on Feb 12, 2014 9:58 PM
Indonesian afternoon paper Harian Terbit on Feb 12, 2014 carries a front page report on Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's "broken friendship". -- ST PHOTO: ZAKIR HUSSAIN

When a satirical website weighs in on a serious bilateral dispute with the potential to escalate, expect some to fall for it.

Several Indonesian media outlets, under pressure from a 24/7 news cycle, ran a spoof by Singapore's NewNation.sg headlined: "PM Lee unfriends Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Facebook, untags him from photos".

And at least one afternoon daily, Harian Terbit, ran a page one article on Wednesday on the supposed virtual rift, headlined: "Singapore PM-SBY cut off friendship", with a prominent Facebook logo between pictures of the two leaders.

The media gaffes come amid a bilateral row over Indonesia's decision to name a new navy frigate KRI Usman Harun after two marines behind the 1965 MacDonald House bombing in Singapore that killed three people and injured 33. The marines, Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, were convicted and hanged in 1968. In Indonesia, they were declared national heroes.

Singapore ministers have said the naming would reopen old wounds.

While both countries' leaders have active public Facebook pages - Prime Minister Lee has more than 271,000 followers and President Yudhoyono more than 1.8 million - neither leader maintains a Facebook account, at least not one that's public, that enables them to befriend and, in Facebook parlance, unfriend, another user of the social networking site.

Nevertheless, the New Nation piece uploaded on Tuesday went viral, and the site ran a second story on how many were taken in.

It read: "I guess we can now REALLY say the row between Singapore and Indonesia has seriously come to a head.

"Indonesia media left, right and centre have picked up on the New Nation piece about PM Lee unfriending Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Facebook."

Several of the online news websites soon realised their mistake, rewrote their stories and ran corrections.

And at least two ran reports on how some, themselves included, fell for the hoax.

The VivaNews website headlined its piece: "Singapore PM unfriends SBY, Indonesian media fell for the hoax".

The website of the largest national newspaper, Kompas, was also taken in.

It later amended its headline to "KRI Usman-Harun controversy: Satire on Singapore PM blocking President SBY's Facebook spreads".

In a correction below that report, the website reproduced the erroneous version it ran a few hours earlier, based on the New Nation spoof.

But some on social media had yet to realise the satirical report was a hoax.

A commentary on the hardline site, voaislam, seemed to take the spoof for real, saying the reported action "has crossed the boundaries" and calling on Indonesians to be brave in standing up to Singapore.

But a reader on a Kompas forum commented: "This is a severe hoax. How could something concerning ties between two countries become a laughing matter? If taken seriously, the consequences could be fatal."

Reports of the ship-naming had drawn expressions of concern from five Singapore ministers, but Indonesia said it was in line with its Navy's tradition of naming certain ships after such persons.

The matter escalated over the weekend when Singapore cancelled invitations for 100 officers to the Singapore Airshow, as well as a planned meeting, and top Indonesian defence officials decided to cancel their scheduled visits to Singapore altogether.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has since said his country meant no ill-will and that his country valued its relationship with Singapore and wanted to get it back on track.