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Minister urges scepticism as fake virus news spreads

Mr Fletcher’s comments come after NSW Health issued a public statement about a false post that urged people not to consume certain foods or visit locations in Sydney. “This post has not originated from NSW Health or any related entity…” the official Twitter page said.

“Further, there is no such entity as the ‘Department of Diseasology Parramatta’. NSW Health would like to assure the community that the locations mentioned in this post pose no risk to visitors, and there have been no ‘positive readings’ at train stations.”

On Monday, Queensland MP Duncan Pegg tweeted a warning after a fake press release from Queensland Health was distributed. “This media release is 100% FAKE!!! FAKE!!! FAKE!!!” he wrote.

This is the second time in a month that Mr Fletcher has warned the public about news from non-trusted sources. Three weeks ago, Mr Fletcher urged people to rely on news regarding bushfires from government bodies and trusted media outlets.

He said the government would continue to work with platforms to develop codes of conduct that would address the spread of misinformation but that efforts needed to be balanced with freedom of speech.

“The ACCC also reaffirmed that an important part of mitigating the risk of disinformation is to equip Australians to navigate online news sources in an informed way. The government has accepted the recommendation to develop a framework for online news and media literacy – to be led by ACMA – to assist Australians to be discerning users of social media, particularly in times of crisis,” Mr Fletcher added.

Disinformation on the coronavirus outbreak is spreading rapidly.

Disinformation on the coronavirus outbreak is spreading rapidly.Credit:Simon Schluter

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company was continuing to work with global and regional health organisations to provide support and assistance. Facebook fact-checking partners have rated a number of posts as false, issuing warning labels for fake content and notifications to those who have shared it that it has been fact-checked.


Several of our third-party fact-checking partners around the world have rated content false so we are dramatically reducing its distribution and people who see this content, try to share it, or already have, are alerted that it’s false,” the spokeswoman said.

Google, which owns YouTube, said the company was “investing heavily to raise authoritative content on our site and reduce the spread of misinformation”.

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