There is zero tolerance for fake news about the novel coronavirus pandemic in Argentina – at least a dozen criminal cases have been filed in courtrooms since the quarantine became compulsory on March 20, even though an extended court holiday forms part of the lockdown.
These cases are the tip of an iceberg, however. Horacio Azzolín, who heads the Cybercrime Specialised Prosecutor's Unit (UFECI) of the Public Prosecutor's Office, has reported around 500 denunciations of malicious misinformation over the past month.
This crime is defined as “public intimidation” and can result in prison sentences of up to six years.
"What we did was simply adjust penal law on persecution to a current situation,” Azzolín told AFP.
"Our general mission is to investigate crime and these situations can imply a huge risk for the population, which is why the prosecutors assumed their responsibility," he added.
In addition, "quarantine violations and associated situations are being investigated," he said.
This work of the prosecutors is added to the “cyber-patrols” of social network content ordered by the Security Ministry as part of the plan to ensure compliance with the quarantine norms.
These “cyber-patrols” were announced by Security Minister Sabina Frederic on April 8, two days after a youth was arrested for tweeting about alleged looting and charged with "public intimidation."
"The first denunciations mostly came from the interior with the multiplication of fake messages saying that this or that neighbour had violated quarantine. This possible media lynching could even lead to inciting collective violence," Azzolín specified.
One of the most notorious cases now facing charges concerns a man who used YouTube to circulate a fake audio about the alleged collapse Posadas Hospital due to coronavirus patients. The case against him was initiated by hospital trustee Alberto Maceira, prosecutor Santiago Marquevich confirmed to AFP.
Argentina decreed the total confinement of its 44 million inhabitants on March 20. The quarantine is slated to last at least until April 26.