Three Vietnamese fined, two Thais arrested for spreading fake news on Wuhan coronavirus

Facebook logo. Photo by Reuters/Regis Duvignau. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

HANOI, Jan 31, 2020, VN Express, AFP, The ASEAN Post. Financial penalties have been imposed on three Vietnamese who posted fake information about the novel coronavirus infection on social media. Ha Thi Le Nhan, 34, from Hue in central Vietnam, Tran Van Tung, 22, from southern Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, and Vu Thi Thanh, from the northern city of Hai Phong, had published Facebook posts about infected cases in their areas. None of the localities have reported any patients of the nCoV virus, VN Express reported.

Nhan was ordered to pay VND12.5 million ($540), Tung VND15 million, and Thanh VND10 million.

Nhan posted on her Facebook account on Wednesday morning that “Hue has detected one nCoV infection case. The patient, a Chinese national from Wuhan, is now quarantined at Hue Central Hospital.”

She also posted the same information on several Facebook groups.

Nhan deleted all those posts in the afternoon of Wednesday but by then, the information had already caused confusion among many people.

In the same move, Tung posted on Facebook on Monday: “Le Loi Hospital in Vung Tau Town [capital of Ba Ria-Vung Tau] is putting two Chinese in quarantine as they are suspected to have been infected with the new coronavirus.”

In 25 minutes, his post received 300 reactions, 400 comments and 600 shares.

He only deleted the post after Le Loi Hospital denied the information and reported to the police.

Tung admitted later that he heard the news from rumors.

As for Thanh, she wrote on her own Facebook account on Sunday that: “One suspected Wuhan pneumonia infection case has been found in Hai Phong and the patient is now quarantined at Viet Tiep Hospital.”

As of Friday, Vietnam has confirmed five cases of nCoV infection, two Chinese and three Vietnamese coming back from Wuhan. One of the Chinese had recovered. The nation had 97 suspected cases with symptoms like fever and cough, and is quarantining 32 pending test results.

Thai authorities arrested two people for posting “fake news” about the coronavirus as a senior official on Thursday warned internet users to think twice before sharing incorrect information about the pathogen, AFP reported, according to The ASEAN Post.

The Southeast Asian country has detected 14 cases, the second-highest number outside China where 170 have been killed since the outbreak emerged in the city of Wuhan.

Thailand’s digital economy minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta said that a man and woman were charged with violating the computer crimes act – which can carry up to five years in prison – for separate social media posts about the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-like virus.

One was a misleading video clip while another promoted false information about an alleged case in a beachside city.

“They already admitted that they created fake news,” Buddhipongse said, adding that more suspects are being investigated and others should take note.

“You better think a lot more and look for sources of where news comes from.”

The internet has unleashed a deluge of misinformation over the virus, from misleading death tolls to quack remedies and even prejudice against Chinese people.

Thailand, which relies heavily on Chinese tourism, has come under a barrage of criticism online for its perceived slow response to the crisis.

But it has also ramped up efforts to monitor misinformation online, arguing it is trying to avoid panic.

Much of the effort is being run out of a new anti-fake news centre that opened in Bangkok late last year.

The centre has come under fire from rights groups for stifling free expression but Thai authorities have said the monitoring is needed to counter a spike in online misinformation from health to politics.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global public health emergency on Thursday.

The virus has spread from mainland China to Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, the U.S., South Korea, France, Germany, Canada, Vietnam, the UAE, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, and the Philippines.

Chinese authorities said 213 people had died as of Friday morning out of more than 9,600 confirmed cases of the disease.

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