Special unit should be set up to counter fake news on Covid-19, says NGO

30 Mar 2020 / 17:13 H.

GEORGE TOWN: The Health Ministry should collaborate with the Communications and Multimedia Ministry in setting up a special unit to stop the rising number of fake news and inaccurate information on the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic being disseminated online.

People’s Rights Organisation president S. Raventharan said the country already has enough on its hands trying to curb the spread of the virus, let alone the spread of false info.

The fear factor is driving anxiety up to record levels, especially among vulnerable groups such as senior citizens and the medium-low income (B40) group.

“Just over the weekend, there were countless posts on social media of virus cases in this neighbourhood and that building. The public are becoming both confused and fearful,” said Raventharan.

The people are already afraid with authorities releasing figures of the incremental rise in the number of infections and fatal cases rates on a daily basis, he said.

“A specific unit is needed and they must put a stop to this spreading fake news. There must be some effort to stop misinformation and false news from going around,” he raised.

Raventharan cited the recent suicide of a senior citizen in Selangor, who took his own life after developing symptoms akin to Covid-19.

It was later revealed that the victim tested negative for the virus.

There is a possibility that the victim was overcome with depression because of all the false information spreading around, which drove him to the edge, he said in an interview.

He also urged the authorities to work closely with the mainstream media to generate as much clarity as possible in the battle against fake news.

Meanwhile, in another development, Penang Fire and Rescue Department director Saadon Mokhtar said that the public sanitisation programme will be carried out in stages across Penang.

He said Seberang Prai Tengah (Bukit Mertajam) and the northeast (George Town) districts will be the first.

“For now Penang has no red zone but we need to be careful. We need to clean up all public and recreational areas in the two zones first before moving on to the other three districts,” Saadon told journalists here.

He said that the operation will be conducted by firemen in Hazmat protective suits. Non-governmental organisations and welfare bodies who wish to conduct similar operations are required to get prior approval from the authorities, he added.

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