There is nothing fake about the coronavirus that originated from Wuhan except for the toxic spread of false news accompanying its appearance on the world stage. Unfortunately, Singapore has not been spared from this virus of fake news. There have been SMSes, online posts and articles containing falsehoods, for example, that the country has run out of masks, that someone here died from the virus and that Woodlands MRT station was shut for disinfection. A WhatsApp message went around listing places to avoid, obscuring the existence of the administrative safeguard that any place exposed to a confirmed case would be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly under supervision by the National Environment Agency.
Governments have responded swiftly to the virus of fake news spreading on social media. Arrests have been made in Malaysia and Thailand by way of warning irresponsible Internet users to think twice before sharing incorrect information about the pathogen. In Singapore, a number of search engines and social media platforms must now comply with general correction directions under the fake news law. Several Internet intermediaries were exempted temporarily from such directions when the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) took effect last October. However, that exemption was lifted recently in the light of the evolving situation created by the coronavirus.