Fake news worse than COVID-19 -- Gatchalian

SENATOR Win Gatchalian described the persistent spread of cyber-disinformation amid a public health emergency as a pandemic is worse than the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

According to Gatchalian, both the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) should expedite their investigation to track down, sue, and lock up fake newsmongers who sow panic and confusion on the internet in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Gatchalian said that putting fake news peddlers behind bars would send a message that those who spread disinformation will not get away with it.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has already warned that fake news peddlers could be charged for violating Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. 

The law provides for an imprisonment of six to 12 years for those found guilty. A Cebu-based optometrist, for instance, who allegedly spread a false report on COVID-19 was sued for violating Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Section 6 and Section 4 (c) 4 of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Another fake news story that recently went viral is an alleged statement from the United States (US) State Department, which warns of potential looting incidents in Luzon during the month-long lockdown period. 

The US embassy has since debunked the alleged statement as a hoax, reminding the public that the embassy only releases information through its official social media accounts, website, and distribution to local journalists.

“Imbes na makatulong sa pagbabahagi ng sapat at tamang impormasyon ngayong nasa gitna tayo ng krisis, nagiging sanhi pa ng kalituhan at kaguluhan ang mga nagpapakalat ng maling balita. Hangga’t wala tayong naipapakulong sa mga nagpapakalat ng mga kasinungalingang ito, patuloy ang mga taong ito sa kanilang paghahasik ng takot at kalituhan sa publiko,” said Gatchalian.

Gatchalian added that different scams, including bogus donation drives, could be thriving now that Luzon is in a lockdown. 

According to him, authorities should also launch a crackdown on individuals or groups behind the scams.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian cautioned the public to be careful with the information they receive and share through their different communication platforms.

He reminded the public to get information only from official government channels, websites and social media pages of established media institutions and other legitimate organizations. 

The lawmaker concluded that the public can do their part by proactively reporting dubious reports to authorities.