A pandemic worse as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis. This is how Senator Win Gatchalian described the persistent spread of disinformation over the Philippines’ cyberspace amid a public health emergency.
According to Gatchalian, both the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) should expedite their investigation to track down, sue, and lock up fake newsmongers over the internet who sow panic and confusion in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Gatchalian said that putting fake news peddlers behind bars would send a message that those who spread disinformation will not get away it.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has already warned the public that fake news peddlers could be charged for violating Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. The law provides for an imprisonment of six to 12 years to those found guilty. A Cebu-based optometrist, for instance, who allegedly spread a false report on COVID-19 was sued for violating Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Section 6 and Section 4 (c) 4 of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Another fake news story that recently went viral is an alleged statement from the United States (US) State Department, which warns of potential looting incidents in Luzon during the month-long lockdown period. The US embassy has since debunked the alleged statement as a hoax, reminding the public that the embassy only releases information through its official social media accounts, website, and distribution to local journalists.
“Imbes na makatulong sa pagbabahagi ng sapat at tamang impormasyon ngayong nasa gitna tayo ng krisis, nagiging sanhi pa ng kalituhan at kaguluhan ang mga nagpapakalat ng maling balita. Hangga’t wala tayong naipapakulong sa mga nagpapakalat ng mga kasinungalingang ito, patuloy ang mga taong ito sa kanilang paghahasik ng takot at kalituhan sa publiko,” said Gatchalian.
Gatchalian added that different scams, including bogus donation drives, could be thriving now that Luzon is in a lockdown. According to him, authorities should also launch a crackdown on individuals or groups behind these activities.
Meanwhile, Gatchalian cautioned the public to be vigilant about the information they receive and share through their different communication platforms. He reminded the public to get information only from official government channels, websites and social media pages of established media institutions and other legit organizations. The lawmaker concluded that the public can do their part by proactively reporting dubious reports to authorities.