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When a real fire and a fake video collide

Purported take on Tuas fire, a blog post on sexism at Uber, and flying motorcycles


In the aftermath of the massive fire at a Tuas plant last Thursday morning, sensational footage - purportedly showing the peak of the blaze, including a gigantic explosion - quickly made the rounds online.

The only problem was that the video was a fake.

To be clear, the video does certainly appear to show a real explosion at a plant. However, that explosion did not take place in Tuas.

Some eagle-eyed netizens pointed out that the sun was too high in the sky for 6am and there was a camera crane in the shot. There were also versions of the same video on YouTube dating back to 2015.

A picture of the actual Tuas fire last Thursday (above) and a screengrab of the fake video. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

So by the end of last Thursday, claims that the video was of the Tuas fire were widely discredited.

As it turns out, the fake video of the Tuas fire was but the outer layer of a fake news "onion", where one peels back a layer of fake news to uncover yet more fake news.

When The Straits Times put up a Facebook post alerting readers that the video of the Tuas fire was fake, one netizen kindly helped by providing a link to what he thought was the original source of the video.

"It's a power station in France," he wrote, while posting a link to a tweet dated Feb 9, from an account named "Vocal Europe".

"BREAKING | Major Explosion at #Flamanville nuclear power plant in #France," tweeted the Brussels-based magazine, together with the video.

The Flamanville plant in France did, after all, have an explosion on Feb 9. However, another helpful netizen clarified the "Vocal Europe" tweet: "@thevocaleurope that video is fake. It's not Flamanville plant. It's most likely the BASF chemical plant in Germany."

A picture of the actual Tuas fire last Thursday and a screengrab of the fake video (above). PHOTO: YOUTUBE SCREENGRAB

He also included a link to a YouTube video describing the blast as the one that took place at the German plant in 2016.

That too was greeted by the following comment: "FAKE! This is NOT BASF!?"


  • "PADDLE POP" RAINBOW OR CLOUD: A rare weather phenomenon - which looks like a giant Paddle Pop ice cream - appeared in Singapore's sky on Monday and the Internet has been abuzz with photos of it all week. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared a photo of it on Facebook. There's also been a debate about what it is. While some called it a fire rainbow, others have subsequently said it was an iridescent cloud.

    MERRIAM-WEBSTER AND THE WHITE HOUSE: The dictionary company has been using its Twitter account to troll the administration of United States President Donald Trump and it was at it again last week. It posted the dictionary definition of "feminism" after presidential counsellor Kellyanne Conway associated the term with being "anti-male". Over the past month, the company has raised eyebrows by posting the definitions of words like "fascism", "facts" and "claque" to coincide with developments in US politics.

Unfortunately, this netizen did not post a link, so the trail went cold.

As it turns out, there are versions of the video that pre-date all three incidents.Where the video is actually from (we think it is China) is but a distant memory.

If you are not worried about fake news yet, this might be a good time to start.


Last weekend, Ms Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, put up a blog post describing what she said was sexist treatment over the course of one year at the ride-sharing company.

She wrote, for instance, that her supervisor propositioned her on her first day at work.

However, her report to the human resources department did not result in any firm action.

The post was circulated widely and Uber chief executive officer Travis Kalanick put together a high-powered panel to look into the issue.

The episode once again put the spotlight on the reportedly male -centric culture in Silicon Valley.


A picture of the actual Tuas fire last Thursday and a screengrab of the fake video (above). PHOTO: YOUTUBE SCREENGRAB

While the promise of flying cars remains elusive, flying motorcycles may soon become a reality.

In a widely watched video, Russia-based company Hoversurf conducted what looked like a successful test launch of a drone-bike hybrid.

The futuristic Scorpion-3 - which has four small helicopter blades - can be seen taking off gently with a rider and flying across an empty warehouse.

The YouTube video of the test has garnered some 1.2 million views already. Not everyone is a fan, however, with many questioning its safety - especially given how close the open blades are to the rider's legs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'When a real fire and a fake video collide'. Print Edition | Subscribe