We often receive messages on our various social media platforms and we forward them without veryfying if the information is true. This spread of misinformation has become more rampant in during the Covid 19 Pandemic. Simply defined, Misinformation is false information that’s given without malice. It is important to differentiate it with disinformation which can be defined as false information, such as government propaganda, that’s given to deceive. Fake news, on the other hand, is a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media.
On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus(COVID-19) an “infodemic”, referring to “an overabundance of information (some accurate and some not) that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”. Like many parts of the world, Kenya has now confirmed multiple cases of COVID-19 in the country. Addressing misinformation has been a chief priority for the government, the media and health agencies. Since the virus took hold of the mainstream narrative on all platforms in Kenya, we have begun observing trends in misinformation in Kenya’s cyberspace. One thing that is clear is that when health crises become the subject of our news cycle, health misinformation and political misinformation flow through the same nerve endings. The same notorious Facebook groups, Twitter handles, WhatsApp messages and websites that bring about political misinformation are key conduits of coronavirus misinformation.
With an aim to clampdown the spread of disinformation, The President, Uhuru Kenyatta chaired a Cabinet meeting at State House, Nairobi where it was directed that law enforcement agencies to pursue and arrest individuals spreading false information on the disease. The meeting acknowledged the critical role played by the media in relaying proper information and thanked the Kenyan media for their leading role in awareness creation on the global pandemic. The Cabinet, in turn, has issued a stern warning to people spreading fake news on the coronavirus situation Kenya saying those found culpable will be dealt with in accordance with established laws
What the Law Says
The Cyber Crimes Act is the relevant law in this case and it provides as follows provides that a A person who intentionally publishes false, misleading or fictitious data or misinforms with intent that the data shall be considered or acted upon as authentic, with or without any financial gain, commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both.
The Act further seeks to limit the right of Freedom of expression Pursuant to Article 24 of the Constitution, in respect of the intentional publication of false, misleading or fictitious data or misinformation that —
- (a) is likely to — (i) propagate war; or (ii) incite persons to violence;
- (b) constitutes hate speech;
- (c) advocates hatred that — (i) constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm; or (ii) is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27(4) of the Constitution; or
- (d) negatively affects the rights or reputations of others.
This means that you will not be able to afford the defence of “freedom of Speech” where you share information that meets the criteria listed above. Section 23 also states A person who knowingly publishes information that is false in print, broadcast, data or over a computer system, that is calculated or results in panic, chaos, or False publications which is likely to discredit the reputation of a person commits an offence and shall on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to both.
The Information and Communications Act also provides for measures that restrict Broadcasting Networks from publishing false or misleading information concerning the COVID-19 Disease. Its provided for Under Section (b) For: Improper use of the system; A person who by means of a licensed telecommunication system— (b) sends a message that he knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another person, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both.
Such measures have been prioritized in the wake of the Global Pandemic as it is seen to cause panic , confusion and in some cases drastic or fatal effects on those seeking hope in misleading “cures” that have not been verified by the World Health Organization and other Authorities.
Other Authorities in several nations around the world have also taken action in accordance with existing laws on the spread of false information on COVID-19. For Example :
Human Rights Watch has documented the arrests of 17 people in Cambodia since late January 2020 for sharing information about the coronavirus in Cambodia. These include four members or supporters of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), all of whom remain in pretrial detention. The authorities also arrested and questioned a 14-year-old girl who expressed fears on social media about rumors of positive COVID-19 cases at her school and in her province. Twelve were released from detention after signing pledges to not spread “fake news” in the future and to apologize. “The Cambodian government is misusing the COVID-19 outbreak to lock up opposition activists and others expressing concern about the virus and the government’s response,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government should stop abusing people’s free speech rights and instead focus on providing the public with accurate and timely information about COVID-19.”
Thailand and South Africa are two examples of States that are implementing new laws to prevent and deter culprits from imparting disinformation on COVID-19.
Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-ocha imposed a state of emergency in the country, set to last until at least April 30, according to news reports. The prime minister’s office published an emergency decree which bars “reporting or spreading of information regarding COVID-19 which is untrue and may cause public fear, as well as deliberate distortion of information which causes misunderstanding and hence affects peace and order or public morals.” The decree empowers authorities to order journalists and media groups to “correct” reports deemed incorrect and allows for authorities to pursue charges against journalists under the Computer Crimes Act, which allows for five-year prison penalties for violations.
In South Africa, strict measures have also been put in place recently to curb the spread of misinformation. A Gazette Notice No. 43107 published on 18 March 2020, section 11 part 5 states that : Any person who publishes any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about— (a) COVID-19; (b) COVID-19 infection status of any person; or (c) any measure taken by the Government to address COVID-19, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both such fine and imprisonment.
It is important to follow the Governments Directives and avoid spreading information that is false or unverified. A popular social platform, WhatsApp and WHO have set up a health alert line to answer questions from the public about the virus. The Government and the Ministry of Health also have relevant Helplines, toll-free lines, and verified social media handles that update and sensitize members of the public on all matters – COVID-19. In addition , The Cabinet Secretary of Health, Mutahi Kagwe issues daily updates on broadcasting platforms to address the nation on the status of the country on the exponentially growing disease.
Preventing the spread of misinformation also starts with you. Don’t share false information. Think before you post, verify before you share.
Remember to stay safe! wear a mask, Sanitise and wash your hands regularly and if possible, stay at home always.
The Article is written by Melissa Kibe:
Melissa is a Lawyer in the firm and Her work encompasses Commercial, Corporate and Intellectual Property