In the wake of first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Bhutan, fake news stories have been circulating around the Internet pointing people to “cures” for the COVID-19, sharing false advice and faking government announcements.
To disseminate correct information, counter fake news and resolve rumours related to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the National COVID-19 Media team was formed on 8 March.
Tashi Penjore, Health Official and member of media team for COVID-19 said that lots of false messages about ways to fight or prevent the COVID-19 are circulating on social media and the Health Ministry have been sharing correct information against the fake news, the ministry issues a press release every day.
“At this time, we cannot track the individual, however, we are posting messages against it. For instance, the recent posts have been shared on social media that consumption of alcohol or using it as a hand sanitizer work against COVID-19, so this is a false information conveying to the people,” he said.
He also said that the trend of prank calls has been reducing since the ministry issuing the warning notification.
“The Health Ministry’s hotline 2121 and 112 have been receiving prank calls, however, the trend has reduced,” he said, adding that the public is cooperating with them and has reduced sharing false news and giving prank calls.
During the press briefing on Wednesday, Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister informed that people making prank calls and creating fake news are being traced and will be dealt with accordingly.
He said, “We would like to take countermeasures in trying to correct those false messages to allay people’s fear and to bring out the right messages through the right channels. Those channels that we have identified as of now as agreed upon by all 10 ministries is, all information related to COVID-19 will be updated on the Health Ministry’s website on an hourly basis.”
The Media Council of Bhutan also issued a notification urging the general public to refrain from spreading fake news. According to the Information, Communications and Media Act 2018, the offence of spreading false or misleading information during an emergency shall be fourth degree felony with a prison term of 3-5 years.
“The Media Council of Bhutan reminds the public that anybody spreading fake news will be prosecuted for the same,” the Media Council notified.
Surja Man Thapa, member of National Council, said that false information is being circulated in the social media and regarding this two members from ruling and two from Opposition Party and two from National Council had a meeting with the media council.
“As discussed in the meeting, we will be disseminating information which the government has issued to the people in the country,” he said.
He said that the people living in the rural parts don’t know what precautionary measures to be taken during such situation, and they become the prey to the fake news and start panicking and take wrong precaution.
“All fourteen gewogs in Dagana have made fourteen groups in WeChat and have key members, every day we held a press conference and information from the government is being shared in the group and from this the tshogpas circulates the information to the individual in the dzongkhag,” he said.
Meanwhile, with the formation of the National COVID-19 Media team, the team has been coordinating press briefings for the media houses at 2pm every day. The team has also been providing hourly updates and information on key developments on all social media platforms of the Ministry of Health.
The government has urged the general public to follow only the news shared by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry as the only authentic source of information related to the disease.