Kuwait, Mar. 29 (BNA): Posting and circulating rumors and fake news in the time of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak could have detrimental impacts on people's morale and state's ability to tackle and overcome the serious health challenge, Kuwaiti academics have warned.
"Rumors harm society and spark panic and fear among its members," Professor of Sociology at the Kuwait University Dr. Ali Al Zubi told Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).
He underlined that people are already under enormous psychological stress due to the spread of the deadly virus, for which no drug has been found yet.
Circulation of fake news and rumors will make things worse, he cautioned.
He called for checking the credibility of any information before posting it.
The ouns of stopping rumors is on everyone, he emphasized, considering it a national duty at this critical time.
Al Zubi also urged people to refrain from disseminating information that could undermine social security and spread fear.
He advised people to seek information from official sources, notably spokespersons of the government and ministries as well as the Minstry of Information and Kuwait News Agency.
Relying on people's conscious and awareness is good in the fight against rumor-mongers, he said.
He argues that it is better to encourage people to act responsibly than to threaten them with tough penalties.
Professor of Political Science at the Kuwait University Massouma Al Mubarak also agreed that rumors undermine the state's plans for addressing crises.
The state bodies have to stand up against rumors through providing adequate information, she said, warning that lack of information opens the door wide for rumors and misinformation.
Al Mubarak advised the state bodies to follow up social networking sites and to be transparent in responding to any rumor that may stir panic or discontent.
She noted that countering rumors is a collective responsibility to be shouldered v=by every member of the society.
Al Mubarak called for firmly enforcing law on those who spread rumors and tamper with the state security.
"The state has to be firm, especially during the current critical time," she said.
Al Mubarak indicated that Kuwait already has several laws that tackle disseminating rumors and false information, namely Kuwait's penal code, the audio-visual law and the electronic crimes law.
Kuwait University's Media Professor Fawaz Al Ajmi also warned against the grave effects of rumors on society, especially in the current exceptional circumstances.
He called for synergy from the government and people to stop the flow of rumors.
In this regard, Al Ajmi demanded the government to feed people with all-important information in a timely manner to prevent rumors and nip in the buds malicious attempts to cause public panic and anger.
Rumor-mongers are capitalizing on people's desperate need for information, he said, noting that the government has to meet their demands in this regard.
He called on citizens and residents to double check the authenticity and credibility of any information before circulating it.
Al Ajmi pointed out that the government has taken several actions to address this problem.
On Wednesday, Government Spokesman Tareq Al Merzem urged people to disregard rumors and fabricated video clips.
"Help us to stop dissemination of the rumors along with fabricated video clips spreading wrong information. Do not forward these erroneous allegations," he said.
On Thursday, Minister of Information Mohammad Al Jabri stressed the significant role of mass media in rebuffing rumors over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.
Speaking to KUNA and Kuwait TV while visiting KUNA headquarters, Al Jabri, who is also Minister of State for Youth Affairs, said that amid the exceptional circumstances in the country, mass media have a crucial part to play by speedily covering relevant state decisions and precautions, as well as fighting rumors purposed to sow panic among people.
On March 11, ministries of interior and information filed lawsuits against people who spread rumors related to coronavirus.
Al Jabri also announced that the admins of 23 accounts on social media sites had been referred to the public prosecution for violating the e-Media Regulation Act.
The misinformation circulated by such accounts sparked confusion and controversy, thus hampering the government efforts to combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the minister said.
Public Prosecutor Dherar Al Asousi warned that stiff measures would be taken against rumormongers who insist on posting misinformation and fabrications about coronavirus on social media, websites and media.
He vowed in a press statement on March 17 that anyone who may circulate false data and news about measures taken by state agencies to fight coronavirus, or posts claims that could stir public panic or undermine public morale would be brought to justice.