Fight against fake news surrounding COVID-19 needs a boost

Update: 18:26 | 11/03/2020
A senior security official has recently warned of an increase in the number of social media account holders spreading false information regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, which could lead to mass panic.
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fight against fake news surrounding covid 19 needs a boost
Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thanh Loi says the fight against the novel coronavirus should be intensified.

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thanh Loi from the Police Department of Cyber Security and High-tech Crime Prevention recently called for joint efforts to fight any cases of fake news on COVID-19 epidemic.

In recent times some people have made use of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic to publish fake news on various social media platforms. How would you assess the impact of such information on the public?

It is true that plenty of epidemic-related news stories have so far surfaced on the cyberspace, some of which contain misleading, even distorted information regarding the disease. Moreover, many items also present false instructions of the government and its agencies, causing to stir up public panic.

For instance, many residents did not feel at ease following the recent release of incorrect information regarding the travel history of the 17th COVID-19 patient. The patient was said to have made contact with a variety of people such as participating in the inauguration ceremony of Uniqlo’s latest store in Ha Noi, or having appeared at various bars throughout the capital. These pieces of false information immediately led to panic buying, with many residents rushing to stockpile food items at markets and supermarkets, resulting in public chaos.

As far as we know, within two days since the confirmation of the 17th case, more than 80 pieces of news relating to the COVID-19 and the patient had flooded social media. Amongst them, many stories contained false information, making it difficult for the public to distinguish the truth from fiction and having a detrimental effect on the government’s epidemic containment efforts.

How has such information been published on electronic platforms?

The fact is that a number of people have taken advantage of aspects of social media, such as the ability to comment and share as a means of distributing incorrect or misleading information. To attract other users, a number of fake stories contain video clips which showcase false information about the way the virus spreads. Others advise the public to ignore official disease prevention and control measures, but rather treat themselves at home.

Some groups carried out online polls, leading to considerable pressure to be put on the administration. For example, some polls called on the administration to “close the border with China”, or shut down businesses that hire employees from epidemic-hit countries such as China, the Republic of Korea, or Japan. Undoubtedly, this kind of information has a serious impact on production and business activities.

fight against fake news surrounding covid 19 needs a boost
A facebooker published incorrect information about the 17th COVID-19 patient, adding to public worry.

It is worth noting that some account holders employed the use of loopholes to spread their false information. One of their methods includes publishing incorrect information ahead of official government sources as a means of causing public panic. More seriously, several outlawed organisations in exile such as the Viet Tan, the Provisional Central Government of Vietnam, and VOICE, together with some opponents within the country, worked to spread negative information against the nation. They spent thousands of US dollars on communication campaigns on Facebook aimed at distorting nationwide epidemic control efforts, alleging that “the government covers up information or is incapable of handling the epidemic.”

What has your department done to prevent and stop these actions?

The Ministry of Public Security and the Department of Cyber Security and High-tech Crime Prevention have directed relevant units to work closely with their colleagues from the Ministry of Information and Communication and other relevant agencies to investigate and remove any traces of distorted information. We have also launched a probe into accounts that publish untrue information and have asked users to either correct or remove various items. To date, we have identified more than 600 such cases and have handed out fines to over 130 accounts, including those of celebrities involved in such practices.

fight against fake news surrounding covid 19 needs a boost
Fake news on COVID-19 has made it difficult for the public to distinguish the truth from fiction. (Photo: Getty Image)

However, it is not easy to deal with these situations, because this type of information can be published freely on social media platforms at any time, they have the ability to quickly reach out to large groups of followers, making it difficult for state law enforcement authorities and information service providers to track down the original source of false news items.

In addition, cross-border digital giants such as YouTube, Google, and Facebook have yet to closely co-ordinate with relevant Vietnamese agencies, as well as not fully comply with local laws regarding fake news published on their platforms.

Thank you so much!

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(Source: VOV)