“I was arrested for inventing on Facebook that I had covid-19”
Michael Lane Brandin failed to anticipate the consequences of the post he shared on Facebook.Michael Lane Brandin knew that his Facebook post would cause upheaval. What he surely did not think is that he would end up being arrested, that he would lose his job and that he would face an expensive trial that could put him in jail.
It was an ordinary March afternoon and on his Facebook wall he was wondering what to do about a potential coronavirus outbreak.So he decided, in his words, “to conduct a social experiment.”Brandin published that he had tested positive for the new coronavirus and that the doctors had told him that the virus was spreading through the air.
Reactions to the Facebook post were solidarity and surprise.Coronavirus in China: How the sophisticated and controversial surveillance system works to control the pandemic”There were quite a few reactions to the post and many friends texted me asking if it was okay, so I told them it was actually a lie,” Brandin said.
But what was happening offline it was more serious.
Michael Lane Brandin says he was trying to carry out a “social experiment”.The rumor began to spread rapidly in Tyler County, Texas, where Brandin lives.This happened days before confinement rules were established and several people were calling the hospital, asking if the news was true and if there was anything they could do to protect themselves from the virus.
The police contacted Michael and told him to modify his publication and clarify that it was an experiment.Michael obeyed and did so.
However, the buzz was getting bigger and bigger, and the following Facebook post on this story came from the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office:
“Following the official complaint from the district attorney, county judge Jacques Blanchett issued an arrest warrant against Brandin for the crime of ‘false alarm’, a class A misdemeanor.
Brandin gave himself up. Se set a security of US $ 1,000.“They said I had to spend the night in jail because I had to wait for the judge to come the next day. I was very anxious, ”admits Brandin.
Facebook announced that it will remove fake news about the coronavirus from its platform.In a public notice, the sheriff’s office stated that the action was motivated by “growing concern about the coronavirus in the United States, that President Donald Trump has declared as a national emergency like the governor of Texas, Gregg Abbott. ”
Brandin was released pending a summons by the judge. Despite the seriousness of this situation, Brandin is unsure whether or not he regrets what he did.“I’m a Social Communication graduate and wanted to see how easy it is to post something online and panic. I wanted to test why it is so important for people to inform and investigate before assuming everything they hear or read to be true, ”explains Brandin.
The young man also comments that because of Facebook he lost his job and his health benefits, that he could not start his master due to lack of money and that became a financial burden for the whole family because everyone tries to help him pay his expenses.
“Although these things are negative, I checked what I wanted and that makes me feel good“Brandin says.
Around the world
USA It is not the only country where spreading false information on social media about the virus can lead to an arrest.Apprehensions for spreading false news have been reported in India, Morocco, Thailand, Kenya, Cambodia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Singapore, Botswana, Russia and South Africa.In some cases, rumors have been spread maliciously. In others, human rights defenders have admitted to the BBC your worry that the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic are equipping the authorities with unprecedented powers to take drastic measures against criticism and dissent. Robert Alai is out on bail and faces a potential 10-year prison sentence for a tweet about the virus.
Alai, 41, passed three days locked in a narrow cell for a post in which he claimed to have heard of an outbreak in the port of Mombasa.
According to the authorities, said action violated the 2018 Cybercrime and Inappropriate Use of Computers Act.Alai was arrested on a Friday and remained in jail all weekend until a judge could see him.The man argues that during his detention, social distancing measures were not applied until he noticed it himself.These were the conditions in the cell in which they kept Robert Alai (the photograph was taken by himself with a mobile phone).
“I slept on the concrete floor with others arrested. They didn’t give me a mask or anything. You can’t arrest me for putting lives at risk and then keep me in those conditions during the pandemic. We complained and that’s why we were later divided, ”says Alai.Coronavirus | “A happy world ?: It turns out that we were better when we thought we were worse”Alai is known for being an anti-government blogger with more than a million followers on Twitter.Police did not respond to the BBC’s request to comment on this, but posted details of a similar case on Twitter five days before the arrest.
The Kenyan Office of Criminal Investigation stated that a man had been arrested in Miwingi “for publishing false and alarming information about the coronavirus … charges will be brought for the publication, which causes panic and violates section 23 of the Misuse of Computer Computing.”The Kenyan authorities have insisted that false information and rumors be stopped from being shared.
The day before Alai was arrested, Kenyan Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said: “These rumors must stop … but since I know that empty appeals do not work, we will proceed to arrest a number of them to prove our point”
Alai is convinced that the information he released was true and that he had not broken the law, although the BBC has not been able to The governments of the world want to avoid creating panic because of false information on social networks.
Alai has been arrested on other occasions for giving your opinion on controversial issues. He thinks the police are using the pandemic to intimidate him for his criticism.
“Other bloggers have been arrested for similar matters and I think any tweet about the coronavirus or any other information on social media is now considered a serious crime. I’m not saying you shouldn’t arrest other people, but I think it is important that the police do their job and focus on the right people, “says Alai. If convicted, Alai faces a $ 47,000 fine or 10 years in prison.