Before South Africa went into a national lockdown regulations were put in place to prevent the national state of disaster being escalated.

Among those regulations was section 11.5 which reads:

“Any person who publishes any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about –

  • (a) COVID-19;
  • (b) COVID-19 infection status of any person; or
  • (c) any measure taken by Government to address COVID-19,

commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both such fine and imprisonment.”

Simply put, publishing fake news about COVID-19 will land you in prison, earn you a fine, or both.

Anybody thinking this was just talk from the government may want to think again because a man has been arrested for spreading fake news.

In a video still circulating on Facebook, a man known as Stephen Birch is seen with a cotton swab up his nose claiming that COVID-19 tests are contaminated and the swabs being used for testing are actually infecting people.

We will not be sharing the video here.

The man mentions a report from the Standard which says testing kits which were headed to the UK were found to be contaminated with COVID-19. While there is some truth, the person in in the video fails to mention some key facts.

Yes, tests bound for the UK were found to be contaminated with COVID-19, but the discovery was made BEFORE they were shipped out.

But of course, the man sharing fake news doesn’t mention this, choosing only to mention that testing kits were contaminated.

The report from he Standard, as well as the original report from the Telegraph, are freely available to read online for anybody.

“The suspect has been charged in terms of Regulation 11(5)(c) of the Disaster Management Act, in relation to ‘publishing any statement through any medium including social media with the intention to deceive any other person about measures by the government to address Covid-19,” spokesperson for the South African Police Services, brigadier Mathapelo Peters said in a statement.

As for Birch, he is expected to appear in court today following his arrest yesterday at the Parow Police Station, in the Western Cape on Monday.

A cursory look at Birch’s profile reveals he has several conspiracy theories each more bizarre than the last.

The most bizarre is him stating that COVID-19 is a hoax (it isn’t) so governments can install 5G networks. The irony that a video warning folks about getting infected with COVID-19 – which is a hoax according to the man you’ll recall – has now landed him trouble, is not lost on us.

We hope that this serves as a lesson to all South Africans, sharing fake news is not okay, ever.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]
Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.