Long before the first confirmed case for COVID-19 was announced in Belize, social media had been blowing up with multiple fake news of cases, national shutdowns and pandemonium of sorts. It had gotten to the point where the government was forced to sign a Statutory Instrument that would allow the culprits to be charged. Earlier today on the Ministry of Health’s webinar, Attorney General Peyrefitte explained that the authorities are still having these issues on the various social media platforms.
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “When you issue misinformation that you know will cause panic in the society to me at this point with the threat of COVID-19 and the deadliness of it you are in my view doing the equivalent of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater – the law provides for that. The law says under the Summary Jurisdiction Offences Act, and I’ll read it from that Act; “A person who maliciously fabricated or knowingly spreads abroad or publishes whether by writing or by word of mouth or otherwise any false news or false report tending to create or foster public alarm or to produce public detriment is guilty of an offence.” When you put out there that no cargo will be coming back into the country or nothing will be coming into the country now in my view you have committed and offence because you’re creating panic in people. When you say “Oh the country is on total lock down when you know that that’s not the case or you have no reason to believe that that is the case and you send people into a frenzy that is an offence under the law so we implore people, the whole general public take your information from the official sources. Facebook is not an official source of information except if you’re following the social media page of the official arms of the government like the Press Office or the Ministry of Health or something to that effect; other than that anything else is unofficial.”