Vietnam issues decree to punish people posting fake news amid coronavirus scare

Local tech companies have been urged to curb misinformation about the outbreak.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has signed off on a decree that could subject social network users spreading fake news to a fine of VND 10–20 million (USD 434–870).

This comes amid the government’s growing concerns over widespread misinformation online about the coronavirus. Doctors in Vietnam have diagnosed ten confirmed infections so far.

According to local media reports, a number of people have received warnings or fines for spreading rumors about the virus, which authorities deemed could cause unnecessary fear and public disorder. These include three celebrities who were asked by authorities in Ho Chi Minh City to explain their “inaccurate” Facebook posts about the virus’ spread.

Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Manh Hung has also called on local tech companies to counter misinformation about the virus. There is a designated hashtag for the campaign: #ICT_anti_nCoV.

Some Vietnamese tech companies—popular homegrown messaging platform Zalo, as well as Vietnamese social networks Lotus and Gapo—can provide accurate information about the virus to counter the prevalence of fake news on Facebook and Google, according to Minister Hung. Zalo, which has more than 50 million users, now acts as an information hub for the Ministry of Health to disseminate daily updates and official warnings.

Other countries in Southeast Asia are also actively addressing the emergence fake news about the virus on social media. Singapore has urged the public not to spread unfounded rumors or speculations, particularly after a website claimed that five Singaporeans who have not visited China contracted the virus. Thailand arrested two people for sharing fake news about the viral outbreak.