Covid post prompts police warning about misinformation

The social media post, and retraction, posted Wednesday morning, which subsequently drew a swift rebuke from regional police.

A Snowy Valleys woman caused panic online this week after posting on social media that her friend had tested positive for Covid-19 in Adelong, prompting a warning from Riveirna police about the dangers of spreading misinformation.
The post, which was shared on various Facebook buy, swap and sell pages on Wednesday, quickly gained traction, garnering comments and shares from concerned locals.
An hour and 15 minutes after making the claim, the woman retracted her statement after she discovered the information was false.
“Big apology for Covid-19 scare in Adelong,” she wrote. “Seems [name withheld] thought it would be a huge joke to tell people she had tested positive. I personally apologise to all who read my post and are worried. There is no Covid in Adelong at this point.”
The Riverina Police District posted to social media that afternoon, assuring the community that nobody had tested positive to Covid-19 in Adelong.
“We would like to reassure the community that NSW Health have confirmed to Police that this is not the case,” the District wrote.
“Currently we have had no recent positive Covid tests in the Murrumbidgee Local Health District.
“Please keep in mind that what you post to social media in this time of uncertainty can cause unnecessary trauma and distress to members of the community. Police ask everyone to be sensitive to this and consider carefully what information you share on social media.”
On the original post featuring the false claim, the comments were filled with concerned locals tagging their friends, whilst others were wary of the post, asking for a source or questioning the validity of the claim.
“There was alot of misinformation during the bushfires! Please make sure your information is checked and real before posting and scaring people,” one user wrote.
“Sharing posts like this without knowing if it is even true is what drives the panic,” another user commented, while someone else said, “the mental health implications for spreading false information could be dire.”
“She should be fined! Just like everyone else breaking Covid laws,” another user suggested.
Tumut police said it’s unlikely that people will face any legal action or prosecution over spreading untrue information, unless they specifically name someone in their allegations.
Under NSW defamation laws (Defamation Act 2005), it is illegal to say or write something about another person which negatively affects their reputation, if the information is not true or is unsubstantiated.
However, the post isn’t likely to attract any legal attention, since the writer didn’t specifically name an individual.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, misinformation and fake news has been rife on social media. Just this week, Facebook has come under fire for failing to take action against a viral Breitbart News video which made false claims about Covid-19 cures.
The video featured non-experts refusing to wear masks, and was shared tens of millions of times, even by the United States President Donald Trump and his son on Twitter.
Back in March, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) warned Australians to be mindful of false or misleading medical ‘advice’ and updates on social media concerning the virus.
“It’s not always easy but social media users need to critically examine this content and consider the source of the information and whether it is credible,” RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said.
“I encourage all Australians to apply a ‘sniff test’ to posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like and ask themselves whether the information is reliable and trustworthy.”