The Thai government says that two people have been arrested for posting fake news about the outbreak of the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus. Buddhipongse Punnakanta, the minister of the digital economy, says his ministry’s “Anti-Fake News Centre” collaborated with the police to arrest Thitima Kongthon at her Bangkok house after she posted on Facebook that a patient infected with the virus died in Pattaya.
“The Anti-Fake News Centre is compiling evidence to root out the sources of fake news. We’re working with the cybercrime police, but it’s difficult to identify suspects, since sometimes they’re anonymous.”
Another suspect, Ritthisak Wongthonglueang, was arrested at his house in Bangkok’s Taweewattana district. Buddhipongse says the man confessed to posting a video of a Chinese man collapsing at Suvarnabhumi Airport in order to mislead the public that it was connected to the coronavirus. The “victim” turned out to be drunk, but not infected with the virus.
Buddhipongse says operations are underway for other targets spreading false information, adding that the government is “not idle in combating fake news”.
“We’re not moving slowly. In fact, we’ve already arrested two suspects, while China could only arrest one. The PM has said combating fake news is a priority, since people’s illness is a sensitive issue.”
The two suspects will be charged with disseminating false information, which carries up to five years in prison if convicted.
The Anti-Fake News Centre says it has received 7,587 complaints about coronavirus stories since Saturday, and is verifying 160 cases with relevant authorities. It has declared 22 of them fake so far, including claims that a Thai Airways flight attendant contracted the virus.
The media have also came under criticism for reporting “hyperbolic news” and relying on dubious sources. In a case that has drawn widespread attention, Thai television wrongly 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 say the number is closer to 10,000.
Thailand’s National Press Council yesterday released a statement urging all news agencies to report on the coronavirus epidemic based on facts and to strictly follow media ethics.