Confused about the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)? Do you have fears about the virus due to all the stories that you may have been getting through WhatsApp or Facebook? Don’t be, because you can fight fake news with facts.
Since the coronavirus outbreak in January, local healthcare professionals and government officials have urged Malaysians not to share unverified stories on social media platforms or messaging apps due to concerns that it may lead to unnecessary panic.
In a recent Bernama report, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail reminded people that the government had taken the necessary measures to curb the spread of coronavirus in Malaysia.
She said the government has complied with standard operating procedures in accordance with directives from the National Security Council as well as going with information provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Health Ministry.
“The Cabinet has also implemented several strategies to bar the entry of tourists and to bring Malaysians home from Wuhan, apart from mobilising the country’s health institutions to curb the spread of the infection,” she added.
Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province in China that has been identified as the epicenter of the outbreak, has been on lockdown since Jan 23 where all forms of public transportation have been suspended and people in public spaces such as shopping malls are required to don face masks.
If someone in your family group chat has been sending you so-called updates about alleged new infections among Malaysians, you can and should verify it on the Health Ministry portal first.
The Health Ministry portal has a page (bit.ly/386h7bu) dedicated to the latest information on coronavirus in Malaysia, including a table for the number of suspected cases and a guide on preventing infection.
Then there’s Sebenarnya.My, a fact-checking portal by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) which has also set up a page (bit.ly/399FhBI) to debunk false viral social media stories on coronavirus.
Globally, social media platforms are also stepping up to prevent users from sharing false information related to coronavirus. Facebook in a recent blog posting said it will limit the spread of misinformation and harmful content about coronavirus among users on its platform.
“This includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods – like drinking bleach cures the coronavirus – or claims that create confusion about health resources that are available,” Facebook stated.
The company will also block or restrict hashtags used to spread misinformation on Instagram and perform actions to find and remove harmful content.
Then on Google’s search bar, the term “coronavirus” will bring up health and information results by WHO as well as a guide on Safety Tips such as urging users to maintain good personal hygiene and avoid close contact with anyone who has a cold or flu-like symptoms.
Earlier, Rolling Stone magazine had reported that some YouTubers claimed that consuming bleach can cure coronavirus. YouTube told the publication that it has removed such videos from its platform and will be highlighting content from legitimate news organisations to users who search “coronavirus”.
Meanwhile, Malaysians searching for the term “coronavirus” on Twitter will get a message urging them to get verified information from the MyHealth and Health Ministry accounts on the platform.
If you’re thinking what’s the harm in forwarding the latest news (even unverified ones) on coronavirus because sharing is caring, beware – there are serious consequences to disseminating fake news about the virus. On Jan 29, MCMC issued statements on a series of arrests made in cooperation with the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) related to spreading fake news.
As of press time, four arrests were made on suspicion of uploading false information about the virus on to Facebook – the first was a 34-year-old individual in Bangi, Selangor; the second a 49-year-old part-time tutor in Alor Setar, Kedah; while the third and fourth arrested were two pharmacy assistants from Peringgit and Merlimau in Melaka, who were detained to assist with investigations.
Another arrest was of a 24-year-old student in Kuantan, Pahang who allegedly shared fake content about coronavirus on Twitter.
All suspects will be investigated under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, which carries a maximum fine of RM50,000 or imprisonment of up to one year or both.