Amid the many challenges posed by the novel coronavirus, which saw South Africa going into a 21-day lockdown on Friday morning, the spread of fake news, false information, hoaxes and scams appears to be as rapid as the spread of the virus itself.
A WhatsApp message claiming that “new communication regulations” would allow government to record people’s phone calls, monitor their WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and that people forwarding religious or political messages would be arrested without a warrant has been doing the rounds.
According to the message, “all social media and forums are monitored” and “your devices are connected to ministry systems”.
The message, which is at first glance suspect and most probably fake, is being forwarded by South Africans as panic, uncertainty and irrational behaviour have taken a foothold countrywide in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, which by Monday had claimed the lives of two South Africans.
A quick Google search revealed that the message is false and has been doing the rounds on social media as far back as 2017. It first appeared in India as a message from the “ministry of internal regulation” – a ministry that does not exist in that country – and has resurfaced as the novel coronavirus continues to cause panic and fear.
On Saturday, Police Minister Bheki Cele warned against spreading false rumours.
“We won’t spare you, we’ll take you,” he told eNCA.
This followed the arrest of a man for spreading false reports that there was no coronavirus outbreak in South Africa.
On Friday night, a 36-year-old man was arrested after recording himself poking fun at efforts to contain the novel coronavirus during a gathering of more than 100 people, News24 reported.
In terms of the state of disaster announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, it is illegal for anyone to intentionally spread fake news about Covid-19, those infected with the virus, or government efforts to address the virus.
For more on debunking fake news and hoaxes, visit the World Health Organisation’s myth-busting site.