About 40 instances of Covid-19 fake news debunked so far this year

About 40 instances of speculation, rumours, scams and outright falsehoods about the coronavirus outbreak have been debunked by government agencies since January, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran yesterday.

The agencies have spared no effort to swiftly put out the facts to dispel confusion and calm anxieties fomented by such falsehoods, he said in Parliament in his reply to Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson).

"The clarifications have been conveyed through media, on government websites, social media and the Gov.sg channel on WhatsApp and Telegram," he added.

The primary focus is to ensure Singaporeans get accurate information in a timely manner, the minister said.

"We have also used the powers under Pofma - the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act - to require purveyors of falsehoods to place factual corrections alongside false claims.

"These actions have been against Singaporeans, here or abroad, as well as some foreign parties and websites," he added.

Mr Iswaran also said some of the actions taken in the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis have been a restraining force, as they further curb people from sharing or purveying false information.

While such misinformation still pops up from time to time, he said the Government is well equipped to deal with it.

But the Government is "not going out on the basis of trying to identify who are the purveyors on an ex ante basis", he added.

"What we do is when the false information is brought to our attention, then we take quick action."

The actions range from clarifications and correction orders under Pofma to more serious ones under Pofma, the Miscellaneous Offences Act and the Penal Code.

"Depending on the circumstances of each case and the outcomes of investigation, the public prosecutor will decide if more serious action needs to be taken," he said.

Mr Iswaran stressed that the Government will not hesitate to use the full force of the law against those who deliberately or maliciously spread falsehoods.

Noting that some may have carelessly shared misinformation, he said: "It is of utmost importance, especially at a time of crisis like this, that each and every one of us does the right thing by checking that the messages we receive come from reliable sources, and make the effort to verify a claim or piece of information before sharing it."

Earlier yesterday, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin spoke on the actions the Government had taken against fake messages claiming a "partial lockdown" in Singapore.

He cited, in his reply to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), the case of a 40-year-old man who allegedly circulated a false message claiming he had "intel" the Government would close all coffee shops and foodcourts, and open supermarkets for only two days a week.

The man urged people to "stock up" on items.

On April 27, the man was charged with communicating a false message under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, he added. The offence carries a jail term of up to three years, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both.

Said Mr Amrin: "The police take a serious view of all reports of falsehoods regarding the Covid-19 situation, including those that claim 'partial lockdowns' as these may cause public alarm."

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2020, with the headline About 40 instances of Covid-19 fake news debunked so far this year. Subscribe