The Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) yesterday said it had questioned two women for allegedly circulating fake news about the pandemic, while the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) said that more than 70 percent of the cases of misinformation about COVID-19 originated in China.
After receiving complaints from the public, the two suspects were identified and questioned, CIB Seventh Investigation Corps officer Hsu Chao-pin (徐釗斌) said, adding that their case has been forwarded to the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office.
Both are Taipei residents, one surnamed Lin (林), 30, and the other surnamed Huang (黃), 36, Hsu said.
The duo distributed messages on the Line app alleging that three recently confirmed COVID-19 cases were from the same household living on Wujia Road in Kaohsiung’s Fongshan District (鳳山), and that the parent of a student at Taipei American School was infected with the virus after taking a trip to Japan.
Both were found to be false, investigators said.
“We double-checked the information with the Central Epidemic Command Center and the Kaohsiung Department of Health, and found that the messages were false,” Hsu said. “The duo had deliberately spread misinformation, causing public fear and anxiety.”
Judicial officials are to charge the two with breaching Article 14 of the Special Act on COVID-19 Prevention, Relief and Restoration (嚴重特殊傳染性肺炎防治及紓困振興特別條例), which stipulates: “Individuals who spread rumors or disinformation about COVID-19 that risk harming the public interest can face a maximum prison term of three years and a possible fine of NT$3 million [US$98,341]”
MJIB Director-General Leu Wen-jong (呂文忠) said that since the middle of last month, his agency had investigated 271 suspected cases of misinformation about the virus.
“Of the 271, 196 cases were found to have originated in China, accounting for more than 70 percent,” he told a news briefing on Wednesday, adding that 35 people in 25 of these cases have been charged.
There was a spike in the last two weeks of last month, as Chinese netizens stepped up their misinformation campaign, which has continued into this month, MJIB Information Security Department head Chang Yu-jen (張尤仁) said.
“Our assessment indicated that Chinese netizens had carried out three waves of coordinated attacks to spread misinformation and fake news in Taiwan. Some were ‘revenge’ for the [Taiwanese] government banning exports of masks to China and other countries. In other instances, it was due to disputes on online forums with Taiwanese netizens blaming China for letting the Wuhan virus get out of hand,” Chang said.
He cited several particularly vicious rumors, such as former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) or vice president-elect William Lai (賴清德) dying from coronavirus, or that “there were dead bodies all over Taiwan waiting for cremation.”
All the messages had IP addresses in China, he said.
There were also 59 cases of Taiwanese circulating false reports about a shortage of goods in shops and supermarkets, and 36 cases alleging a shortage of medical items and supplies to combat the virus, he said.
The Yilan County Government yesterday said it had asked police to investigate a rumor circulating online that a local bank employee was confirmed to have the virus, which it has found to be false.
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