Two Arrested For Spreading Coronavirus Fake News

Photo: Anti-Fake News Center
Photo: Anti-Fake News Center

BANGKOK — The government on Thursday said two people were arrested for posting false information about the outbreak of novel coronavirus.

Minister of Digital Economy and Society Buddhipongse Punnakanta said the ministry’s “Anti-Fake News Center” collaborated with the police to arrest Thitima Kongthon at her house in Bangkok’s Minburi district after she posted on her Facebook that a patient infected with the virus had died in Pattaya.

“The Anti-Fake News Center is compiling evidence to root out the source of fake news,” Buddhipongse said. “We’re working with the cybercrime police, but I have to admit that it’s difficult to identify suspects since they’re anonymous.”

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Another suspect, Ritthisak Wongthonglueang, was apprehended at his house in Taweewattana district. Buddhipongse said the man confessed that he posted a video of a person collapsing in an unrelated incident but posted it to mislead the public that it was connected to the coronavirus. 

The minister said operations are underway for other targets who are spreading false information, adding that the government is not idle in combating fake news. 

Minister of Digital Economy and Society Buddhipongse Punnakanta shows arrest warrant to the suspect on Jan. 30, 2020.

“We’re not moving slowly. In fact, we’ve already arrested two suspects, while China could only arrest one,” Buddhipongse said. “The Prime Minister has insisted that combating fake news is a priority since people’s illness is a sensitive issue.”

The two suspects would be charged with disseminating false information, which carries up to five years in prison if found guilty.

The Anti-Fake News Center said it has received 7,587 complaints about the coronavirus since Saturday. The center is verifying 160 cases with relevant authorities. It has declared 22 of them to be fake news so far, such as claims that a Thai Airways flight attendant had contracted the virus.

The media also came under criticism for reporting hyperbolic news about the virus and relying on dubious sources. 

In a case that drew particularly widespread attention, Channel 3 erroneously quoted the mayor of Wuhan as saying that “most of the 5 million people” who left Wuhan before the lockdown came to Bangkok. Chinese state media said the number was closer to 10,000. 

Alarmed by the flood of fake news reported by the media, the National Press Council on Thursday released a statement urging all news agencies to report about the coronavirus epidemic based on facts and strict adherence to media ethics. 

Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra