The speed at which news moves around the world today has opened the floodgates to a flurry of questionable information that deliberately misleads and misinforms. ‘Fake news’ can undermine companies, and even whole economic sectors, if there is no strategy to combat its spread.
This presents a unique challenge to the Malaysian palm oil industry, which constantly battles underhanded moves to restrict the use of palm oil in the production of food and biofuels.
Ongoing vigilance and a sustained effort are required to protect the sector from the harm that opponents and detractors wish to inflict. It requires finding and working with friends and allies both within and outside the industry. Consistent, strong and repeated messages supported by facts are our sword and shield against fake news.
We must not rely only on defensive vigilance, but have the confidence to go on the offensive, too. In the past, we have been most successful when we have taken our arguments, armed with facts and data, to the opposition and made our case. This is even more important in the social media age.
The English author Jonathan Swift coined the phrase that ‘a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has laced up its boots’ to demonstrate the difficulty of countering false information. With today’s technology, a lie can travel even further and faster.
In Malaysia, we must work hard to prepare for every eventuality, to ensure that we lace up our boots faster than ever before to react to developments. In June, for example, the Norwegian Parliament voted to ban the use of palm-based biofuels or by-products of palm oil in public procurement.
The proposal comes on the heels of a Resolution passed by the EU Parliament in April which claims that conversion of land to oil palm plantations alone is responsible for 40% of the loss of global forest cover. This figure is derived from a misreading of a 2013 technical report on the impact of various commodities on deforestation.
Close scrutiny would reveal that oil palm plantations account for only 2.3% of the 239 million ha of forest lost between 1990 and 2008. The largest source of deforestation from crops is soybean (5.4%), followed by maize (3.3%). So, let’s ask the question again: is palm oil responsible for 40% of deforestation? The answer is clearly ‘No’.