Over a dozen have been arrested under the Digital Security Act for their posts on social media platforms on coronavirus and criticising ministers.
Misinformation and misleading coronavirus advices go viral on social media as well as speculation on coronavirus infected and death figures, creating panic among the people, said police’s cyber security team official Najmul Islam.
Police headquarters officials said that at least 14 cases under the digital security act were lodged along with two more general diaries in connection with spreading rumours in social media.
Fifteen people were arrested on the charge of spreading coronavirus-related rumours and several Facebook accounts were tracked down, said a senior police official.
Criminal investigation department has arrested a lawyer named Abu Bakar Siddiqi at Uttar Badda Saturday evening for Facebook post on coronavirus and Awami League secretary general Obaidul Quader.
CID cybercrime unit additional police superintendent Khairul Alam said that Abu Bakar posted that Obaidul Quader was infected with coronavirus, besides spreading other misinformation.
Earlier on March 21, a local Juba Dal activist in Jamalpur was arrested after he had criticised ministers in Facebook posts on the coronavirus issue.
On the same day, a physician was arrested at the Prabartak in Chattogram as he allegedly posted a 35-second audio clip claiming deaths of coronavirus patients in a hospital that went viral.
Police’s cyber-crime unit said that rumours and fake news were even misleading mainstream media outlets and spreading panic and confusion among the people.
A message circulating on the popular WhatsApp messaging service recommended taking a dangerously high dose of anti-malaria drug chloroquine to treat COVID-19, while another misleading health advice was that eating pennywort would save one from coronavirus infection, said fact-checking website BD FactCheck that debunked some of the rumours.
It found that when rumours in social media were targeting the government, some were plain fantastical take on the coronavirus situation.
Using false images and making false claims, these post circulated stories such as vaccines were discovered to cure the virus infection, tigers and lions were released in the streets of Moscow to keep people quarantined, UK’s Queen Elizabeth was infected for coronavirus, 20 million people went missing in China and 59 people died in South Africa after drinking Dettol antiseptic liquid to prevent coronavirus infection.
BD FactCheck’s co-founder Qadaruddin Shishir told New Age that the level of digital literacy was very much poor in Bangladesh which often contributed to the spread of misinformation. ‘The problem becomes acute when a section of the mainstream media is misguided with such false contents,’ he added.
Najmul Islam, additional deputy commissioner of the cyber security team, told New Age that they blocked 40 Facebook accounts and identified 150 more so far.
The cyber security team removed 36 contents containing rumours on coronavirus from Facebook and Youtube, he said, adding that they urged people not to believe and share information, photos and videos that were not verified by relevant authorities or from credible media sources.
Former chief information commissioner professor Golam Rahman stressed the need for free flow of information saying that that if the free flow of information remained suppressed, rumours will take over.
‘But some people also spread false information in social media with ill motives, which is more dangerous and needed to be checked,’ he added.
International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, however, expressed their concern over the rumour-related arrests.
The government has a responsibility to prevent the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, this does not mean silencing those with genuine concerns or criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis, said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
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