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South Africa clamps down on ‘fake’ coronavirus posts

South Africa’s government on Wednesday announced new measures to crack down on false information about coronavirus making the rounds of various social media platforms.

A “high-tech monitoring and evaluation process” is being rolled out to intercept misinformation about the virus and government responses to the outbreak, said a statement by the communications department.

Several misleading posts have been circulating since South Africa detected its first coronavirus case last month, including fake presidential announcements.

“We are stepping up our campaign against digital misinformation, particularly in relation to Covid-19 and related actions such as the national lockdown,” said acting Communications Minister Jackson Mthembu.

“We also need to remind South Africans that spreading fake news or disinformation about Covid-19 is a punishable offence,” Mthembu added.

“Arrests have already been made, and they will continue if people persist in spreading fake news.”

Under emergency laws enacted last month aimed at curbing growing infections, peddling misinformation on the deadly coronavirus in South Africa will attract up to six months in jail or a fine.

The media and members of the public will now be able to report any disinformation to a special task team composed of government, private sector and civil society representatives.

The new team can order platform owners to take down false posts and submit certain cases to the police.

A WhatsApp number and a website have been set up for people to report any misinformation they may come across.

South Africa has continent’s highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections, with 2,415 cases detected so far and 27 deaths.

A strict 21-day lockdown was imposed on March 27 to curb the spread of the disease.

It has since been extended by two weeks to the end of April, despite a slowdown in the daily rise of recorded infections.