We came across posts circulating on X and on Facebook about a mall in Johor Bahru, Malaysia – Mid Valley Southkey – being evacuated. While some posts claimed that the evacuation was due to a fire in the mall, others claimed that it was due to a bomb threat.
Claims surrounding the mall evacuation
Since the incident happened in Malaysia, Black Dot Research reached out to MyCheck Malaysia, a fact-checking organisation in Malaysia and a member of the Asian Fact-Checkers Network (AFCN), to gain more information about the claims circulated across the border.
The AFCN, an initiative by Black Dot Research, brings together fact-checking organisations from across Asia to share best practices and exchange expertise to collectively tackle fake news in the region. As we grow ever more interconnected, and misinformation spreads beyond borders, it is imperative that we tap into our collective resources to identify and verify claims, especially those that go viral.
MyCheck expressed that there were several misleading claims circulating on social media following the evacuation of the mall. There were claims of a gas leak in the mall, and an old video from 2019 showing a fire in the mall was even recirculated as having occurred recently.
[Translated caption: gas leak incident in Midvalley JB, 14/10/23]
What was the threat to the public in the mall?
Mid Valley Southkey Mall and a nearby hotel – St. Giles Hotel Southkey – were evacuated in response to a security threat received by the mall’s management on 14 October 2023.
In a statement released on 14 October 2023, the mall confirmed that it received a report of a security threat via an anonymous phone call and investigations by the relevant authorities were ongoing.
However, while investigations were ongoing, a Johor-based Facebook page allegedly published a post claiming that “the police confirmed that eight bombs were found in and around the mall premises”. This information about bombs found in a public location could potentially cause panic and distress among the public who were on-site near the mall as well as among the loved ones of those who were near the mall.
However, the information about the 8 bombs being uncovered was found to be untrue. The Facebook page has since retracted its post and issued an apology for any “inconvenience, distress, or confusion that [the post might] have caused [their] readers and the general public”.
The real reason for the evacuation of the mall and hotel
According to Johor Bahru’s Police Chief, Commissioner Datuk Kamarul Zaman Mamat, on 14 October 2023 at about 6.10 p.m., the management of the mall and hotel received a phone call from a man believed to be a foreigner claiming that he had placed a bomb around the premises.
In response to the alleged threat, the police deployed “92 officers and policemen to the location five minutes later, including two K-9 units, as well as the Fire and Rescue Department”.
Following instructions from the relevant authorities, the management of the mall and hotel began evacuating people from its premises as a precautionary measure. After a sweep of the mall and hotel, by 11.30 p.m. on the same day, the police deemed both buildings safe to be occupied as no suspicious items were found.
The mall subsequently provided an update on 15 October 2023 that after thorough investigations, the relevant authorities found no evidence of threats and that the mall and hotel were “safe for the return of tenants, employees, guests and shoppers” as of 12.15 am on 15 October 2023.
Hence, the claim that there were bombs found in Mid Valley Southkey Mall in Johor Bahru is false.
Misinformation and disinformation across borders
MyCheck shared that although some social media users seemed more inclined to verify the claims circulating on social media, such as highlighting that videos showing a fire in the mall were from 2019 and not 2023, others simply echoed the false claims that there had been a bomb found in the mall.
While the incident occurred across the border, the response to the incident is a testament to the intricate ties between Singapore and Malaysia, and how quickly misinformation and disinformation spread, even across borders, in a time of a potential crisis.
The mall bomb scare comes off the back of a recent bomb threat on a Perth-bound flight from Changi Airport, Singapore.
When we feel innately at threat, especially when it is a security concern, we may feel the urgency to share information and updates with all our friends and relatives as soon as we can, so that they can take the necessary measures to be safe. However, we may unknowingly be spreading falsehoods.
Therefore, it is important that we take a step back and verify information that we come across against trusted sources so that we do not inadvertently miscommunicate the efforts on the ground, cause more panic to the public, and potentially complicate tricky situations.