The federal police in Belgium has created a squad of 21 officers whose job is to track fake news on the internet and elsewhere, according to Het Nieuwsblad.
Fake news is considered different from simply false information. While mistakes can be made, fake news is false information deliberately invented to sow confusion, either for personal or political gain or simply for fun.
The coronavirus pandemic has offered rich pickings for fake news artists.
For example, someone somehow planted the idea in the head of none other than US President Donald Trump that bleach could be used to combat Covid-19.
The idea was shot down immediately, but a number of his followers had to be treated for poisoning after trying it.
“These are false messages, which can usually be found on social media. That poses a threat to society and the population, and we try to have them removed,” said Alain Luypaert, who heads the squad.
“A lot of false messages were published during the lockdown, for example concerning the influence of the 5G network on the spread of the virus. We analyse the content and decide when a message could be harmful.”
Unfortunately, even if the culprit can be traced – and fake news on the internet knows no borders, like the virus itself – there is little the police can do.
“Fake news is actually not punishable by law,” Luypaert said.
“There is no legal provision for taking action. All we can do is remove such messages or the sites that carry them,” he said.
Some examples of typical corona fake news listed by the VRT:
Fake: A future vaccine against Covid-19 will contain RNA which is able to ‘rewrite’ your DNA, with the aim of creating more gender-neutral children as the new DNA passes down the generations. Fact: According to geneticist Professor Thomas Michiels of the university of Louvain-la-Neuve, “The newer vaccines introduce mRNA or Messenger RNA into a cell. But that does not change the DNA in any way,” he told the VRT.
Fake: A man pictured in March lying flat-out on the ground in the Brussels metro is one of the first Belgian victims of the coronavirus. Fact: Journalists traced the location to Brussels-Midi station, and the transport authority Stib confirmed that police had attended an incident where they found a man lying drunk on the ground.
Fake: Taking Vitamin C can help combat the virus and even stop its progress entirely. Fact: Vitamin C is good for the body, but there is no evidence it has anti-viral properties.
Fake: If you hold your breath for ten seconds and do not cough when releasing, you know you’re not infected with Covid-19. Fact: The message purports to come from Stanford University hospital in the US, where they denied all knowledge. In any case, the so-called test is nonsense, Tarik Jasarevic, spokesperson for the WHO, told French news agency AFP.