Vietnam will fine people posting fake news on social media in an effort to crack down on the spread of both general misinformation and falsehoods about the novel coronavirus.
The new law, which will come into effect on April 15, will fine people who post or share fake news online VND10 to VND20m ($425-$850), which is several months salary for many Vietnamese. The authorities will also have power to force the user to remove the post.
Vietnam's Law on Cyber Security, which took effect in January 2019, already prohibits spreading fake news, but doesn't stipulate specific fines for spreading fake news on social media.
The country's communist government's definition of fake news (in Vietnamese) includes not only posts that include incorrect or misrepresented information, but also extends to slandering the reputation of companies and organisation, and insulting the "honor and dignity" of individuals.
The decree also includes "causing confusion among people", inciting violence, or promoting gambling, as well as encouraging unsound customs, promoting depraved cultural products, or detailing murderous actions.
The act also enables the government to pose a heftier fine of VND20m to VND30m (US$850-$1270) for disclosing state secrets, violating personal privacy, and posing other secrets that are not serious enough for penal liability.
The government's Department of Information and Communications has slapped hundreds of fines on individuals posting incorrect information about the virus outbreak. According to data from the Ministry of Public Security, over 650 offenders have been identified. More than 160 were fined, including three celebrities who took down their posts and offered public apologies.
In the latest example, the government fined a 20-year-old company driver VND10m for a false Facebook post saying that Ho Chi Minh City would be locked down for 14 days from March 28.
However, Vietnam's prime minister last week asked major cities to prepare for such scenario, and instituted a lockdown yesterday. The government has banned crowds of more than 20 people and ordered all non-essential businesses to close until April 15.
Vietnam is especially vulnerable to coronavirus because it lacks the resources of its wealthier Asian neighbors. The country has seen a surge of cases since early March, many of whom were foreign travelers returning home. A cluster of cases in a hospital in Hanoi has also been identified. The positive count stands at 218, with no deaths, according to its health ministry.
Rather than conduct mass tests, Vietnam has focused on isolating infecting people and aggressive contact-tracing. Other measures include mandatory 14-day quarantine for all people arriving into the country and conscripting medical students, retired medical doctors and former nurses to support local hospitals. ®