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The government said on Wednesday that it has ramped up its capacity to monitor and respond to misinformation and fake news during the period of COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

A hi-tech monitoring and evaluation process has been put in place to assess complaints and reports from the media, the public and other sectors of society, with the ability to take down fake news items on a range of platforms and submit cases to the police for investigation and prosecution, the government said in a statement.

This solution is a unique cooperation between the government and various stakeholders, including the media, ICT sector and social network platform owners.

Once fake news items or social media posts have been identified, platform owners are notified to bring down the posts, according to the government.

Electronic communications services licensees, including over-the-top media service providers and internet service providers that are in the service of providing linear and non-linear services, will then have the responsibility to remove fake news from their platforms with immediate effect, said the government.

“We are stepping up our campaign against digital misinformation, particularly in relation to COVID-19 and related actions such as the national lockdown,” said Acting Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Jackson Mthembu.

South Africans should be reminded that spreading fake news or disinformation about COVID-19 is a punishable offense, Mthembu warned.

Arrests have already been made, and they will continue if people persist in spreading fake news, he added.

Earlier this month, a 55-year-old man was arrested for circulating a misleading Facebook video, in which he calls on South Africans to rejecct COVID-19 testing because the test kits “are contaminated.”

The suspect appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court last week to face charges of violating the Disaster Management Act Regulation which prohibits publishing information through any medium including social media with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. Enditem

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