Manila: The government has warned peddlers of “fake news” that they risk being hauled to court for spreading erroneous information about the situation regarding the corona virus.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in an effort to stamp out wrong information coming out from social media platforms about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) situation in the country, said spreading false information that could cause panic is punishable under the country’s laws.

Over the past several days since the 2019-nCoV ARD made news, rumour mills, particularly those in sharing sites such as Facebook, had been turning out wrongful and unverified information about the situation in the country concerning the disease.

Carrying wrong message

Guevarra said while some of those who passed along the information may have only intended to warn others and did not mean to stir fear, a snowballing effect carrying the wrong message that could do more damage instead of helping people.

He also said that it is a different matter if the fake news was sent out with villainous intention.

“If the intent in causing the publication of false information was to create or aggravate public disorder, or undermine government efforts during a state of public emergency ... appropriate charges under the Revised Penal Code in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Law may be filed against perpetrators,” he said.

An example of this so-called “fake news” is one that made rounds on Facebook on Tuesday when one post said that a hospital in northern Metro Manila, the East Avenue Medical Centre was on “lockdown” after a suspected 2019-nCoV ARD patient was admitted.

Fake news on internet

The wrong information had forced the East Avenue Medical Centre to issue a clarification on the matter. “Circulating message about the East Avenue Medical Centre on Lockdown is False! EAMC is continuously providing health-care services to the public,” the government health institution said in a Facebook post.

Likewise, the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) was not spared from a similar fake news.

“The DOH (Department of Health flags the circulating message regarding a confirmed 2019-nCoV ARD patient confined at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). DOH has no report of a confirmed 2019-nCoV ARD case in PGH,” the DOH said in a statement.

There had been recent instances that fake news made rounds in the internet involving coronavirus. Guevarra urged the public to be more circumspect in sharing such information on social media.

He said government intends to avoid causing undue panic.

“The 2019-nCoV ARD threat is a very serious public concern and no distraction of government efforts to overcome it will be tolerated,” he said.