AGiven the growing number of false messages and conspiracy theories, the WHO speaks of an “infodemic” in a report on the coronavirus. The large number of reports makes it difficult for people to distinguish between facts and misinformation. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Monday in Geneva about the spread of “rumors” about the corona virus.
Incorrect recommendations on medication or precautionary measures against the virus could be hazardous to health, the director general said at the start of the meeting of the WHO executive council. Organization staff worked 24 hours to locate and address the most common Internet rumors. “It is difficult to recognize fake news,” says Markus Mingers from the Mingers & Kreuzer law firm. The lawyer, who is active in the area of corporate and general civil law, has also dealt with legal questions about fake news.
In view of the flood of information, WHO has launched a large-scale awareness campaign on social networks. This should reliably clarify all open questions, such as whether the acceptance of packages from China is dangerous. The organization also recommends that states prepare for fast, reliable, and transparent communication with the population. WHO is currently working with Google and providers such as Twitter, Facebook, Tencent and Tiktok to combat the spread of fake news.
In addition to misinformation due to incorrect translations, there are numerous cases in which conspiracy theories are deliberately disseminated. Twitter has already started blocking individual accounts due to the spread of false information, including the financial news site Zero Hedge. Rumors were spread there that the corona virus had been developed as a biological weapon. A video surfaced on YouTube last week in which mostly false statements are made. For example, it says: “As early as January 12, doctors recommended closing off the city because the situation was completely out of control.” The fake news video is considered extremely dangerous because it is spreading at high speed via social media.
“Google’s reverse search can provide first clues to the truth of a message, for example whether an image has been taken out of context. Otherwise, false messages are characterized by the fact that they appear conclusive at first, but are completely wrong in the details, ”explains lawyer Mingers. The reasons for creating false messages are often ideological or economic. With lurid headings, the authors tried to generate the greatest possible viral reach.
In spite of the uncertainty and possible health risk that the spread of fake news on the Internet poses, the sharing of such reports has no legal consequences: “There is no ban on spreading false news,” says Berlin lawyer and Professor Niko Härting. He emphasizes that a general distinction must be made between evaluations and facts. Only statements that specifically defame or insult people are actually punishable. “If someone spreads that the virus was developed in American laboratories for combat purposes, then this is actually a false factual statement and is therefore not permitted,” explains the lawyer.
In order to protect yourself from false news, critical handling of news from social media is often sufficient. Markus Mingers states that many people are very carefree when using such networks. “If you act a little more carefully and don’t immediately share everything, you can protect yourself and others from fake news quite well,” says the lawyer. He sees another possibility in the information campaigns of large organizations such as the WHO.