Coronavirus sends out Asia’s social media censors into overdrive – Reuters

BANGKOK/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Deluged by misinformation about the new coronavirus on social networks, some Asian governments are resisting with arrests, fines and fake news laws – something free speech supporters fear will entrench procedures that can also silence dissent.

A minimum of 16 individuals have actually been apprehended over coronavirus posts in Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong, while Singapore has actually utilized its questionable new “fake news” law, POFMA, to force media outlets and social networks users to bring federal government warnings on their posts and short articles stating they include falsehoods.

“Thankfully, we now have POFMA to handle these fake news,” said Lawrence Wong, among the ministers heading a Singapore government task force to stop the spread of the infection.

Numerous information of the new flu-like coronavirus that surfaced simply weeks ago in the Chinese city of Wuhan are unidentified. As the death toll has actually passed 420, anxiety has actually been fuelled by social media posts ranging from the unusual to the destructive.

Posts consist of speculation about how the infection can be captured – through a computer game according to one – or avoided – a government minister in Myanmar was rebuked for sharing a post that advised consuming more onions – to regional scares of deaths or anti-Chinese attacks.

“What I call the ‘moron strain’ has developed a global, social media-driven panic that is in turn feeding upon itself,” wrote Karim Raslan in his regionally syndicated column, noting just how much greater the challenge had actually become for governments to handle.

A minimum of five people were arrested and released on bail in India’s southwestern state of Kerala over WhatsApp messages, stated Aadhithya R, District Cops Chief of Thrissur. Six people were arrested in Malaysia on suspicion of spreading false news.

In Vietnam, where an army of cyber-censors tracks social networks remark for the communist government, a minimum of 9 individuals have actually been fined and 3 celebs asked to explain their actions over posts about coronavirus.

Thailand hailed the success of an “anti-fake news centre” it established last year. Lots of staff evaluated nearly 7,600 posts in 4 days from Jan. 25 – leading to 22 posts being highlighted as false on its site and 2 arrests under computer system criminal offenses laws.

“The anti-fake news centre is working intensively to confirm these rumours and communicating reality to the individuals,” said Digital Minister Puttipong Punnakanta.

Thailand is among nations where laws on social networks posts have actually been toughened in current years regardless of complaints from human rights groups that they might be utilized to target federal government challengers.

Free-speech supporters are careful that the campaign against coronavirus might help federal governments extend their control in addition to harming the health campaign.

“Criminalisation of speech, even if targeted at frauds, is extremely most likely to suppress the actual time sharing of info that is vital during epidemics,” stated Matthew Bugher, Head of Asia Program totally free expression campaign group Short article 19.

China has actually long censored social networks heavily and some critics say that might have postponed information on the emerging infection in Wuhan – and for that reason prospective countermeasures.

Eight people were arrested after being implicated of spreading rumours about illness in early January, but the case was dropped last week amidst growing public anger over the handling of the new crisis.

Meanwhile, Tencent Holdings’ (0700. HK) common messaging app WeChat has added tools to help debunk virus rumours. The main People’s Daily has actually likewise presented a tool to help people validate reports.

Western social media companies are likewise stepping up action. Facebook Inc (FB.O) has stated it would take down false information about the coronavirus – a rare departure from the normal technique to health content by the world’s most significant social media.


Taiwan has actually cautioned of penalty for spreading disinformation. South Korean cops were dealing with telecoms regulators to block “incorrect details”, Yonhap news agency stated.

Indonesian authorities stated 2 individuals had been apprehended for spreading phony news and face charges that could see them jailed for up to 5 years. Hong Kong police stated a shopping center security guard was arrested for spreading out incorrect news about infections.

In Singapore, some said the government was using its new phony news law responsibly.

“Many examples of false information, puzzling data and outright phony news present a clear and present threat to public safety, health and security,” stated Nicholas Fang, founder of Singapore consultancy Black Dot Research.

But not all were persuaded.

Reporter and activist Kirsten Han is amongst those who have been given a government correction notice – in her case for sharing an article associated to state executions last month rather than anything to do with coronavirus.

“Just due to the fact that there are fairly more reasonable usages of a #fakenews law, it doesn’t indicate that the law was well-drafted and can’t be an instrument of abuse and injustice,” she commented on Twitter.

Reporting by Matthew Tostevin in Bangkok and John Geddie in Singapore; Extra reporting by Jessica Damiana, Keira Wright and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta, Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur, Patpicha Tanakasempipat in Bangkok, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Josh Smith in Seoul, Chris Thomas in Bengaluru, James Pearson in Hanoi, Tony Munroe in Beijing, Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Modifying by Alex Richardson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Concepts.

This content was originally published here.

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