False information and misinformation appearing rampantly on social media platforms have further complicated the Covid-19 pandemic, impacting people’s lives and societies worldwide. Vietnam is not alone in this “parallel” pandemic: the Covid-19 and the spread of fake news. Since the first Vietnamese Covid-19 case was recorded in January 2020, disinformation such as “Covid-19 spreads via 5G network”, “Using alcoholic beverages helps prevent Covid-19 infection”, “Eat garlic to avoid being infected by the Covid-19”, etc. started spreading. To add to this, false information about numbers of affected and dead in some local areas also circulated, causing panic.
Fake, fabricated, and false news have been spread intentionally, often stemming from a socially impacted event to gain vested interests. In this paper, false information and misinformation are referred to as “fake news” which is defined as “deliberate attempts to confuse or manipulate people through delivering dishonest information to them”; “misleading information created or disseminated without manipulative or malicious intent” (Cherilyn I. and Julie, 2018, P. P.7). Spreading disinformation related to the Covid-19 on social media networks is very dangerous because it causes public confusion, and creates many difficulties in the fight against the pandemic, as in the case of Vietnam. The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in mid-February 2020 when the spread of the fake news was flooding cyberspace: “We are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an infodemic”1.
It must be said that information related to the Covid-19 pandemic has been attracting a great deal of attention throughout Vietnamese society, especially in the early stages when the whole world had not yet understood exactly how the Coronavirus worked. In times of the Coronavirus crises, the mainstream media and social media in Vietnam have provided a great deal of information on Covid-19, such as new development about the outbreak and society’s responses to it on a regular basis. At the same time, there was a lot of disinformation and misinformation about the pandemic, mostly on social media. According to a Ministry of Public Security of Vietnam report, by mid-March 2020, nearly 600,000 news and video clips related to the Covid-19 pandemic were posted on social networks, the authorities verified 654 cases of false information postings (Xuan Tung, 2020).
People who post fake or inaccurate information can have malicious intentions with a variety of motives such as wanting to create panic among the public; aiming at luring users to click on to gain “like”, “seen” in order to serve advertising or sales; tricking users into providing personal information; spreading malicious code by hackers to control the user’s devices for other nefarious purposes. A climax of disinformation occurred when the first affected people were found in Hanoi from a flight from London in early March. Fabrications about the private lives and activities of patients No. 172 and No. 213; falsifying people who were supposed to provide information about untrue patients; fabricating the number of affected people; false information of workers infected with COVID-19 without being isolated; inciting workers to strike in the collective form at foreign companies and industrial zones in Vietnam; or fabricating the Prime Minister’s decisions on the Covid-19 pandemic, etc. proved daunting in the fight against fake news. In Vietnam, this kind of information drew a great deal of activity on social networks, causing confusion in public opinion, creating social panic, and discrediting the Government and Party efforts to prevent the pandemic and to make people lose faith in the regime.
In response to the call by the Vietnamese Government in condemning activities of spreading false information, and contributing to eliminating negative information to build healthy and useful cyberspace for society, many news media organizations published articles countering the disinformation. During the troubled times of the Covid-19, Vietnamese media organizations and journalists tried to provide reliable and credible information to the public. The leaders of the country openly acknowledged this. Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Covid-19), said that the news media played a very important role in the prevention and control of COVID-19. Also, there was much in-depth analysis and coverage of the Covid-19 that were well received by the public. (Do Thoa’s, 2020)
The prevention of disinformation initially achieved success because of synchronized and drastic participation by responsible ministries, branches and localities, medical experts, and health workers who regularly transferred knowledge about disease prevention and control to the public through mainstream media. For example, the Ministry of Health in Vietnam ran a media campaign to provide information on the Covid-19 with different communication channels, including mainstream media, social media, online forums, songs, SMS, etc. This is aimed at raising awareness of prevention and control of the Covid-19 pandemic. The campaign messages were to help people learn how to protect themselves. The Ministry of Public Security published clear and concrete recommendations of how people accessing the information on cyberspace to be able to identify distorted and fake information.
The campaign to take action against disinformation and fake news during the Covid-19 also involved social media users and bloggers. Le Quoc Vinh, the founder of the group “Join hands against fake news” on Facebook, wrote in his status, “Our group’s mission is to help the community expose fake news and sources of fake news, to help keep the information environment healthy. The group welcomes civilized, scientific, and legal debates to validate information or report false, fabricated, or false information” (Le Quoc Vinh’s Facebook, 2020).
In Vietnam, the control of false information related to Covid-19 is considered to be effective. The decisive actions by both the political system and the media, including the social networks in the “battle” against fake news and false information, have achieved good results. On the other hand, both the mainstream media and social media actively coordinated with the Government in raising people’s awareness about compliance with recommendations and measures of authorities to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam.
*** The author is an Associate Professor at Academy of Journalism and Communication, Hanoi, Vietnam and Director of Vietnam Journalists Center for Further Journalism Training ***
- UN, the Department of Global Communications, Covid 19 Response
- The 17th patient was recorded as the first person infected by the Coronavirus in Hanoi. Very soon after the news was released by the authority, there was much misinformation about this patient spreading on social media that she was attended the opening of Uniqlo fashion in Hanoi. However, she was actually isolated from the previous day, and there were many fabricated images of her Facebook account.
- The 21st patient is a politician. After he was confirmed to be positive with covid 19, there was a fast spread of fabricated information on social media about his private life, such as ‘love affairs”, properties… to lower his reputation and the country’s leaders in general.
- Cherilyn Ireton and Julie Posetti, 2018, Journalism, “Fake News” and Disinformation: A handbook for Journalism Education and Training, Unesco
- Thoa. D, 2020, ‘Báo chí góp phần quan trọng trong phòng, chống dịch COVID-19’ (The Press contributes an important role in prevention and control of Covid-19), Vietnam’s Communist Party Online Newspaper, 10 April, Available at: http://dangcongsan.vn/thoi-su/bao-chi-gop-phan-quan-trong-trong-phong-chong-dich-covid-19-552599.html, (Accessed: 14 May 2020)
- Tung. X, 2020, ‘ Kêu gọi sự đồng lòng của nhân dân trong chống tin giả về COVID-19’ (A call for the People’s unanimity in fighting fake news), Vietnam Plus, 14 March, Available at: https://www.vietnamplus.vn/keu-goi-su-dong-long-cua-nhan-dan-trong-chong-tin-gia-ve-covid19/628381.vnp (Accessed: 13 May 2020)
- UN, the Department of Global Communications, Covid 19 Response, ‘UN tackles ‘infodemic’ of misinformation and cybercrime in COVID-19 crisis’, Available at: https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-tackling-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation-and-cybercrime-covid-19 (Accessed: 13 May 2020)
- Vinh, L.Q, 2020, Chung Tay chong tin gia-fake news dich cum Covid-19 (Join hands against fake news), Available at www.facebook.com/lequocvinh, 1st May, (Accessed: 14 May 2020)