Disinformation on COVID-19 not addressed enough in Latvia

Take note – story published 3 years ago

As the coronavirus spreads, so does disinformation related to it. How to stop it? Latvian Television spoke to responsible ministries and State Police October 31.

“The Ministry of Health is planning to smuggle the COVID vaccine in with the influenza vaccine.” A false message with such a sensational headline can be read on the portal mainampasauli.news. According to the website, the project is secret and the COVID-19 vaccine will be hidden under the name “influenza and seasonal disease vaccine”. 

The Ministry of Health acknowledged this to be a lie and turned to the police in September. It took several weeks, and the police finally responded that criminal proceedings were refused because there was no crime content.

“In this case, the State Police shall cooperate closely with the Ministry of Health, and the examination of objective conditions shall be carried out within the framework of the resoric examination. But there is no reason to launch criminal proceedings at the moment,” said Dmitrijs Homenko, chief of the Cybercrime Division of the State Police.

He did not agree that the police would be powerless in this case: “The police act in accordance with their powers and assessing each event in accordance with the offences referred to in the Criminal Law or the Administrative Violations Act.”

Meanwhile, the false message is still readable and continues to mislead the public. Disinformation has failed to be eliminated, said the Ministry of Health.

“We would like such information not to be disseminated so that it is not some kind of commercial goal, for someone to simply benefit from the deception of people by creating loud headlines. Of course that would be our goal. How to do this is a much more complicated issue,” said Raimonds Osis, head of the Legal Department of the Ministry of Health.

It is not known how widely this disinformation has spread and how has it affected attitudes towards vaccination.

“We call on the public to assess whether or not someone has been harmed as a result of this publication. It can be moral or it could also be material damage. And if people have indeed been harmed, then we call on them to turn to the State Police,” Homenko said.

A different police response, however, was on a similar case early this year. There were no COVID-19 patients in Latvia then, when the portal aumytests.net came up with the following message: “The first cases of coronavirus infection have been recorded; people are asked to be careful!”

Then, too, the Ministry of Health turned to the police. The perpetrator was punished with 260 hours of forced labor and the false news page was eliminated. Why didn't the police do the same in the case where lies are spread about vaccines? “In this case, the State Police will not make any comments and will not compare some submissions among one another,” Homenko said.

According to the Ministry of Health, the fight against false news would be better treated not as hooliganism but as unfair business.

“The most efficient means would be to turn against this profit-taking. Either with big fines and so on. Otherwise it is a losing battle. There are a number of proceedings, but the news remain.”

In turn, the police are looking forward to changes to the law, Osis explained.

The State police admit that it would be delighted if the area were to be sorted out and it would also be possible to turn to people who publish false news not based on hooliganism motives, but to earn money.

It is promised that the problem should be in focus once the MPs have finished their work on the 2021 budget.

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