Thailand arrests two for 'fake news' posts on coronavirus


Bangkok (AFP)

Thai authorities arrested two people for posting "fake news" about the coronavirus as a senior official on Thursday warned internet users to think twice before sharing incorrect information about the pathogen.

The Southeast Asian country has detected 14 cases, the second-highest number outside China where 170 have been killed since the outbreak emerged in the city of Wuhan.

Thailand's digital economy minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta told AFP that a man and woman were charged with violating the computer crimes act -- which can carry up to five years in prison -- for separate social media posts about the SARS-like virus.

One was a misleading video clip while another promoted false information about an alleged case in a beachside city.

"They already admitted that they created fake news," Buddhipongse said, adding that more suspects are being investigated and others should take note.

"You better think a lot more and look for sources of where news comes from."

The internet has unleashed a deluge of misinformation over the virus, from misleading death tolls to quack remedies and even prejudice against Chinese people.

Thailand, which relies heavily on Chinese tourism, has come under a barrage of criticism online for its perceived slow response to the crisis.

But it has also ramped up efforts to monitor misinformation online, arguing it is trying to avoid panic.

Much of the effort is being run out of a new anti-fake news centre that opened in Bangkok late last year.

The centre has come under fire from rights groups for stifling free expression but Thai authorities have said the monitoring is needed to counter a spike in online misinformation from health to politics.