Belgian schools, hospitals denounce spread of coronavirus misinformation
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    Belgian schools, hospitals denounce spread of coronavirus misinformation

    Authorities in Liege warned about stoking public concern through false news reports and "calumnious" information shared online. © Belga

    As the rise of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Belgium fuels public concern, institutions have started fighting back against the spread of false information surrounding the outbreak.

    Brussels’ Saint-Pierre University Hospital (CHU Saint-Pierre), one of Belgium’s two officially designated hospitals for responding to highly infectious outbreaks, filed a complaint for defamation over the spread of “fake, calumnious and defamatory news” online.

    In an online statement on Wednesday, the hospital said that a number of false reports concerning its services had circulated on some social media platforms “in recent days.”

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    A judge issued a ruling in favour of the hospital which ordered anyone who posted or shared the content in question to remove it.

    The hospital said that they had decided to file a criminal complaint to bring those responsible before justice, arguing that the spread of “fake news” was “unacceptable since it can negatively impact the public’s trust on health authorities and institutions managing the coronavirus crisis.”

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    The news came on the same day that Liège authorities said they had filed a complaint against an unidentified person who falsely claimed that a student in a local secondary school tested positive by impersonating a Belgian news outlet.

    “On [Wednesday] a false report was published on a false website which presented itself as RTL.be/info, announcing that a coronavirus case had been detected in the Flémalle Guy Lang secondary school and that a ‘suspicious student’ had been ‘urgently transferred to [the hospital]’,” authorities said.

    The Province of Liège announced the complaint in a Facebook post, calling for a “stop to fake news,” and saying that the spread of misinformation online stoked fear among citizens and among school staff and students, in particular.

    Both institutions called on citizens to refrain from posting or sharing unconfirmed news or information and said that official information was exclusively posted on the accounts of public health officials as well as on the government’s coronavirus information website.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times