Fake news affects COVID-19 fight

Rokiah Mahmud

In the initial stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in Brunei Darussalam, misinformation – particularly of the variety spread through social media – had a significant impact on the prevailing anxiety and fear surrounding the outbreak.

Panic set in and people rushed to shops to buy groceries in bulk, including hand sanitisers and wet tissues, in anticipation of a lockdown to contain the deadly virus.

The Brunei Government, particularly the Ministry of Health (MoH), has repeatedly warned the public against circulating fake news, photographs or videos.

The public is also urged to assist enforcement agencies in reporting those responsible for spreading false information related to the coronavirus.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar has constantly reiterated that circulating fake news is an offence under the Public Order Act, Chapter 148, Section 34, which states that anyone who spreads false reports or makes false statements, whether orally or in writing or by any other means, that are likely to cause public alarm or result in public disorder, is guilty of an offence punishable by a prison term of three years or a fine of upto BND3,000.

The public is advised to verify the facts by visiting the MoH’s social media platforms, before sharing any information from questionable sources.

Since misinformation can influence behaviour and distort public perception. The Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) is collaborating with other agencies in curbing the spread of fake news, particularly related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The public is also reminded not to be easily susceptible to false information, to the point of triggering mass panic.