Anyone who creates or spreads fake coronavirus news can be arrested, including people who forward these messages on WhatsApp and Facebook.
This is the warning from social media law specialist Emma Sadleir, who spoke to eNCA about the new Disaster Management Act fake news regulations.
These regulations have made spreading fake news or disinformation about the coronavirus, with the intention to deceive, a criminal offence.
People who are found guilty of this crime can face imprisonment of up to six months, a fine, or both.
The Disaster Management Act regulations which deal with fake news states:
Any person who publishes any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about
(b) COVID-19 infection status of any person
(c) any measure taken by the Government to address COVID-19
commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both such fine and imprisonment.
Police Minister Bheki Cele also warned people against spreading disinformation and fake news about the coronavirus on social media.
Cele revealed that one person has already been arrested after the new regulations came into effect.
“There is one boy that was arrested. He was on social media saying that there is no such thing as the coronavirus here,” Cele said.
The risk of sharing fake news on social media
There are many people who have shared fake voice notes and other messages about the coronavirus on WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook in South Africa.
Sadleir warned that every person who forwards fake news is committing a crime if they are intending to deceive.
While many of these people did not knowingly distribute fake news or disinformation, Sadleir said one has to consider “dolus eventualis”.
“Even if you have a reckless disregard for the truth, you could be hit by this,” Sadleir warned.
She stated that if you receive something and you are sharing it without interrogating the content, you are putting yourself at risk.
“You have to interrogate content before you share it. It is your duty as a social media user,” she said.
“Presume everything you read is false until you have gone and investigated it and confirmed that it is true.”
Sadleir advised people who share content which they are uncertain about to add a disclaimer to the message which states that it may not be true.