Thailand begins arresting citizens for “inducing panic” online by sharing coronavirus information

Thailand is the latest country to make sharing unverified information a criminal offense.


China may be the source of the coronavirus outbreak – that is currently said to be a serious health problem in that country, and consequently, a health scare for the rest of the world – but it doesn't seem to be the only state that's keen on tightly “managing” the flow of information regarding the topic.

Thailand, whose northernmost border is in close proximity of China, has reportedly been working on blending into one “fake news” with “coronavirus news” by enacting a law adopted in 2017 – in order to arrest people.

The latest report is that two people have been detained for “inducing panic” related to the spread of the virus, that is capable of causing fatal pneumonia.

The Bangkok Post said the authorities – including “cybercrime police” – are working under the newly established “Anti-Fake News Center” to uncover all those who are posting information deemed to be fake news, related to the spread of coronavirus.

However, in their way stands the fact that these social media posts came from anonymous sources.

The police branch in charge of tech crime suppression, TCSD, managed to get 15 search warrants for as many locations involving six suspects – two of which are now behind bars and charged under the 2017 Computer Crime Act that regulates publishing online information deemed to be false, while also “bound to damage national security and cause public disorder.”

The article goes on to name both suspects – whose Facebook posts apparently falsely claimed, or showed in videos, that people had died of coronavirus in the Thai city of Pattaya.

According to Thailand's Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, however, those posts had been “misleading.”

Thailand's Anti-Fake News Center is very busy these days, receiving 7,587 complaints about coronavirus in one week, the report said.

22 of those have so far been declared as fake news, with two people arrested to date.

If found guilty, they could face up to five years in prison.

Thailand is not alone in southeast Asia to react in this way to the current pandemic scare.

According to the report, four people have been arrested in Malaysia on similar “coronavirus disinformation” charges.

China, of course, “led the way” by detaining eight people in early January for spreading “false news” about the outbreak.


Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovic is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovic is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]