20-year-old Malaysian Muhammad Azhar Ali has earlier claimed that he was recently awarded a prestigious NASA scholarship on Twitter. However, he was met with many netizens questioning the legitimacy of his tweet before deciding to post a Twitter thread in light of the accusations.
Azhar Ali’s claims
We published an earlier report when he made his Twitter account private after receiving many messages questioning his claims. Besides receiving a scholarship from NASA, he also claimed that he beat out more than 3 million entries from all around the world, obtained a top 1 percent score and even included a graphic showing his “Super Distinction score” of 96.77 percent Spacesuit Interface Efficiency Level.
According to the screenshots he posted on his tweet, Azhar claimed he is also now officially NASA’s Citizen Scientist, an official volunteer to help make thousands of important scientific discoveries. An email screenshot he posted also stated that he was offered the NASA Degree Scholarship to continue his studies at the National University of Singapore.
‘Debunked’ by netizens
There were many, many Malaysians congratulating him on Twitter, including Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Higher Education Dato Dr Noraini Ahmad and even the Prime Minister himself Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Along with Azhar Ali’s overnight fame, many more looked closer into his claims and say that the story doesn’t add up. Some brought up that the contest that he entered was only meant for U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents, and that the challenge also required participants to be on-site in Houston, Texas.
Netizens also questioned his screenshot of his picture on NASA’s website, as when we tried looking for an “Azhar Ali” in NASA’s Citizen Scientists section, no note of his presence was there.
There are even netizens who are questioning the legitimacy of the graphics posted by Azhar. The poster Azhar posted looks as though he “cropped” it from a page in NASA, rather than having a poster with a PNG file with a transparent background. Our Twitter follower @Teechconsult also pointed out to us that the email Azhar screen capped had a couple of errors.
The subject of debunking Azhar’s claims went viral on Twitter with many separate tweets accusing him of lying. Currently, “NASA” and “Citizen Scientist” are trending topics on Malaysian Twitter.
Shortly after making his Twitter account private, he recently put out a statement via a Twitter thread to explain his side of the story.
He starts off with explaining that he participated in the “NASA suit designing competition” around 20th March and waited for the best upon submission two weeks later. He then shared:
Upon another two weeks, I received an email claiming that I’ve been selected as top 1%. Out of content, I shared this great news with my friends. Two things happened upon this, many congratulated me and a certain few checked for the authenticity for the certification. Thank you, you guys are my heroes. The main email has only attachment & link.
…was given a link to a portal in which I was able to select a photo for my so call recognition the first indication that I was a potential Victim of Scam. I took a screenshot from the link as I wanted you guys to get a glimpse of how things would look like.
In the meantime, I have also received ambiguous emails from NUS, and this time the emails came in without the NUS domain, another indication of scam. I have also written to NUS recently. On top of that, I raised the matter to NASA in their official website to further secure its entitlement. Using this opportunity, I would also like to make a request for people to stop making false statements on my behalf.
He claims that at the end, he had been scammed by “ambiguous emails from NUS” (National University of Singapore) after “a certain few checked for the authenticity”. He also shared an explanation why his profile photo with his name (the one he posted on Twitter) didn’t appear on the official NASA site.
He then continues to write in the thread:
I am still a student, reaching the peak of my career. I have offers from reputable institutions from abroad and I would dearly request for the people of Malaysia to not jeopardise my future career for this uncertainty.
What we, myself included, can learn from this is that we should always check for authenticity before engaging or posing any form of news to the public. I’m not going to apologise upon being a Victim of a Scam.
I feel very sad for many unknown people like me who are brought to this kind scam, potentially lose their money and dignity. To all of you, please do not be afraid and keep silent.
This can lead to depression and potential suicide as we can see teen suicide are rising due to depression. I would like to thank my parents who give me courage and guided me.
I would also want to thank my friends who have dearly supported me through these tough times, and the people who congratulated me. I would also want to thank the individuals who point out the flaws and sense of realisation into me.
I am an astrophile, I love the universe and all it has to offer. Thank you my fellow friends for supporting me. Hope the very best is in for all of you. Thank you. Asslm.
He managed to garner support from a bunch of netizens. Twitter user @sofia_zulkifli posted a tweet that she claimed to have contacted Azhar personally on his DMs. This thread even includes Azhar sharing his thesis to her, but she had to keep it confidential.
In her screen shots, he claimed that he was given the scholarship offer on Thursday morning Malaysian time which “indicates US PM time zone”. He then explained in detail that one of his screen shots could be explained by “what NASA officials gave him” and allowed him to choose a selected photo and title.
“Insyallah they will update it perhaps next week,” he wrote.
He also said that the scholarship is in affliction with NUS, not NASA so “it’s possible for Asians to join”. However, when she asked him to explain what kind of programming language he used to create the project, and how he managed to enter the Artemis programme when the Human Exploration Rover Challenge is the only programme to accept students worldwide, he said that he will “make a thread of my thesis, but as soon as NASA allows me to.”
She also asked about which program he joined exactly, since the Artemis program he earlier referred to was only meant for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, but he claimed that NASA has “expiry dates” and all the events had been removed.
He continued to then show her his thesis confidentially. As for who @sofia_zulkifli is, we don’t have a confirmation as to whether she is his friend or just a curious Twitter user. We did find it weird that she was able to receive a response from Azhar via Twitter DM while our messages to him were unanswered.
What still doesn’t sit right
Despite his best efforts to clear the air, it is still unclear whether he planned all this himself (probably with the help of his friends), or are the claims of him being scammed true? There has been a lot of ‘debunking’ going on in the Twittersphere at the moment, including this thread by Twitter user @MohdAsriDungun, where he claims that the offer letter from National University of Singapore that Azhar posted matches with another copy of an offer letter from NUS he found on a simple Google Image.
Even as though Azhar Ali has claimed that he had been “scammed” and that there was no offer anymore, the thesis he claimed he wrote got around Twitter and was accused to be forgery.
“This NASA boy claimed that he wrote this thesis (although he showed the evidence pakai Note dalam phone je) for the program but unfortunately, he copied almost everything from the internet, barring the last few paragraphs,” @MohdAsriDungun tweeted.
Khairy Jamaluddin responded to Azhar’s recent thread, writing that “this is indeed a lesson for all of us” and that we should all be fact checking before we share online.
How Azhar can justify his claims
Giving him the benefit of doubt, there are still a lot of questions left to be answered that we think could still give him grace. While he claims that he has been scammed, and even showing his rather sketchy “offer letter by the NUS”, he could still provide the “scam” email he received and make it public so a source could be traced.
He could also answer where he submitted his original work, and how the scammer knew that he submitted the work to NASA, specifically in regards to NASA SUITS?
He earlier mentioned to @sofia_zulkifli on Twitter that he will make a thread of his thesis, “but as soon as NASA allows me to.”. Thus is odd considering his thesis is his creation, one which he owns the full rights to, he doesn’t require an approval from another party (in this case NASA) to publish a work that belongs to him. And considering the gravity of the situation, publishing his performed would certainly go a long way to clear his name.
To date, he hasn’t yet responded to our own question when we tried to contact him. We’ve also reached out to NASA for confirmation, and will keep updated on this story.