Tackling fake news during the COVID-19 Lockdown

Following the outbreak of community transmission in the country, there has been a large amount of misleading and false information on COVID-19, especially doing the rounds on the social media.

For example, the rumor stating that the government is running out of isolation facilities and also a post on Facebook alleging that 22 people tested positive for COVID-19 on rapid test kit in Punakha and a chef in Thimphu testing positive are not true.

The health ministry informed that the isolation facilities are already in place and they are comfortable with the number of isolation facilities, as confirmed by the National COVID-19  Surveillance Team also.

The Media Council of Bhutan also issued a notification urging the general public to refrain from spreading fake news including images by any person during the time of emergency through any means as it is an offense and is creating panic in the society.

“The Media Council of Bhutan reminds the public that anybody spreading fake news will be prosecuted for the same,” the Media Council notified.

According to the Focal Officer of Media Council of Bhutan, Thinlay Zangmo, misinformation can appear as anything on the internet starting from manipulated images and articles to videos. It can even appear on traditional media outlets such as TV and radio. And sometimes it can be spread verbally.

She said that spreading fake news including images by any person during the time of emergency or otherwise through any means is an offence and punishable under section 437 of the Information, Communications and Media Act of Bhutan 2018.

“The offence is graded as a fourth degree felony. You can check the authenticity of any information by fact checking, finding its source, author and date,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Media Council of Bhutan is working closely with Bhutan Computer Incident Response Team (BCIRT) under Department of IT and Telecommunication (DITT), Ministry of Information and Communication in reporting misinformation and tracing the source.

During the press briefing on Sunday the Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering said that misinformation about COVDI-19 has proliferated widely on social media through unknown sources.

“It can be a mix of accurate and inaccurate information. There can be some information from reliable sources and some from unreliable sources. It is good if the information shared is correct otherwise, but we would request not to share any false information during such a situation,” the Prime Minister said, and further added that it is important to question where information has come from.

“Take your time to check it out against reliable sources of information. This will help you decide if you can trust the advice,” the PM said.

He urged the general public to follow only the news shared by the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Health and the formal media as the only authentic source of information related to the disease.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo requested people to stop sharing rumors and fake news during the press brief on Thursday.

“Rumors are being circulated claiming that the outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the country is due to the recent flu vaccination. We would like to clarify that the rumor is baseless and untrue. Only WHO prequalified flu vaccines, which are also widely used in other countries, were used during the recent vaccination drive,” said the Health Minister.

To disseminate correct information, counter fake news and resolve rumours related to the COVID-19, the National COVID-19 Media Team was formed on 8 March. The team has been providing hourly updates and information on key developments on all social media platforms of the Ministry of Health.

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