[COVIDWatch]: Is This Facebook Caption Just Keeping Things Snappy, Or Is There More To It?

By February 21, 2020 February 24th, 2020 COVID-19, Health

A Facebook caption typically has 3 functions:

  1. To briefly summarise what the piece of linked content covers
  2. To pose a question that might be of interest to readers
  3. As a keyword dump so that the post would appear if Facebook users search for related terms

Regardless of which approach a publisher on Facebook takes, the end goal is the same – to be seductive enough to entice readers to click in to the article to read more.

Given how quickly people scroll through their various feeds, publishers thus need to make sure that the Facebook captions they craft achieve the perfect ratio of being informative yet mysterious.

Something like ‘clever clickbait’.

However, this might also mean that definitions and refiners (which could be crucial to how readers’ understanding) might be left out in the process of keeping captions snappy.

This could have been the case for the caption of a recent Facebook post by Sinar Harian, a Malay language daily newspaper published in Selangor, Malaysia:

Here’s a translation of what it says:

“As part of the notice requirement, everyone is required to be in the house at all times for 14 days with effect from 11.59pm (local time) tonight including those with a recent trip to Hubei province.”

Anyone reading the caption would automatically understand that what’s being implied is that everyone, regardless of whether or not they’ve travelled from mainland China, needs to stay at home at all times for 14 days.

However, when you click into the article to read more, you’ll realise that the content is actually a translation of this article on CNA, where it is clearly stated that those affected are only those with recent travel history to China (outside Hubei) within the last 14 days.

Fortunately, there have been netizens who have caught on to this:

Rough translation:

Jue Andika Suria I can immediately understand after reading the first paragraph. Let me copy and paste it here for those who are lazy to read the article…

“SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday (Feb 17) announced a new Stay-Home Notice (SHN) for Singapore residents and long-term pass holders returning to Singapore from China within the last two weeks”

Jue Andika Suria Allow me to emphasize the last sentence of the first paragraph in CAPSLOCK


Rough translation:

Nana Sariayana Aiyohh the caption.. not too much lah.. can cause others to panic.. the quarantine is for Singaporeans and long-term pass holders returning from mainland China or Hubei only right.. those that have nothing to do with it can go about their daily lives as usual.. where does it say that all Singaporeans will be quarantined.. it’s not so bad here.. our daily routine is as per normal.. the most important is to stay healthy

Rough translation:

Kenrick Carberry Josak SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday (Feb 17) announced a new Stay-Home Notice (SHN) for Singapore residents and long-term pass holders returning to Singapore from China within the last two weeks 

Farahiah Mohd Salleh luckily it doesn’t affect you right 

Kenrick Carberry Josak no effect but just have to be careful, go to work and come back home straight, don’t go to other places

Farahiah Mohd Salleh ahh that’s right. hope the situation doesn’t worsen in JB, otherwise you can’t come over

‘Clever clickbait’ or something more?

In a time when media companies are fighting for the biggest share of the engagement pie on social media, success can be achieved by simply creating a thumb-stopping headline or caption that triggers a Like/Share/Follow.

‘Clever clickbait’, like what we said earlier.

And just like we’ve seen in our fact-check piece on a viral voice message which allegedly reveals that a Chinese prostitute with COVID-19 was asked by the Ministry of Health to share her list of clients (spoiler alert: the voice message didn’t even mention COVID-19), there are many who would share a link just based on a scandalous-sounding caption or headline without checking its legitimacy.

It is because of this that publishers on Facebook need to be more responsible with what they post, and while it can be argued that the Facebook page managers of Sinar Harian used the word “everyone” in an attempt to keep the Facebook caption ‘snappy’, the statement is misleading, nonetheless.

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