SINGAPORE: Government agencies have clarified and debunked about 40 instances of fake news on COVID-19 since late January, Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran told Parliament on Monday (May 4).
This includes speculation, rumours, scams and outright falsehoods, said Mr Iswaran, in response to a question by MacPherson SMC MP Tin Pei Ling on what the authorities are doing to tackle fake news.
The spread of misinformation has been an issue since the early days of the outbreak.
In January, social media users alleged that Woodlands MRT station was closed because of a suspected case of COVID-19. More recently, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanugam said fake videos were being spread to create trouble in foreign worker dorms.
READ: Fake videos being spread to create trouble in foreign worker dorms, risk 'serious' law and order incidents: Shanmugam
"Amid this crisis, our agencies have spared no effort to swiftly put out the facts to dispel confusion and calm anxieties fomented by such falsehoods," Mr Iswaran said.
Clarifications have been conveyed through media, Government websites, social media and the Gov.sg WhatsApp and Telegram channels.
Beyond that, the range of legislative measures carrying fines and jail terms include the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, Miscellaneous Offences Act and Penal Code.
While he said authorities do not proactively track down spreaders of fake news, they will take "quick action" when misinformation is brought to their attention.
"Depending on the circumstances of each case and the outcomes of investigation, the public prosecutor will decide if more serious action needs to be taken," he said.
Mr Iswaran said the Government's efforts to fight fake news early in the outbreak has stemmed some of the spread but not eliminated it.
"I think they are also episodic and we see sometimes, for want of a better word, a cluster pop up because there's a new source of information and then others build on it," he said.
The minister stressed that the public has a responsibility to stem the spread of fake news, stating that some might have "carelessly shared" the misinformation.
"It is of utmost importance, especially at a time of crisis like this, that each and every one of us does the right thing by checking that the messages we receive come from reliable sources, and make the effort to verify a claim or piece of information before sharing it," he said.
"Ultimately, such falsehoods will find no traction if we do not give it any traction."