Fact check: Indian news outlets duped by fake Twitter account of Pakistan's health ministry

Published March 13, 2020
A screen grab of the Hindustan Times website showing the fake news story. — Screen grab
A screen grab of the Hindustan Times website showing the fake news story. — Screen grab

As authorities battle against the novel coronavirus — which has so far infected 21 people in Pakistan — they also need to address the flow of fake news that is feeding national paranoia by spreading disinformation.

An example is a fake Twitter account @MinHealthpk, which is designed to look like Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Services and has become a source of headlines in the Indian media.

The account was created in September 2019 and has recently been regularly posting false updates about the coronavirus situation in Pakistan.

Health authorities have confirmed that the account is fake and its posts are untrue.

Sajid Shah, the press relations officer of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination, confirmed that the account is fake and has been reported to authorities. Speaking to Dawn, Sindh Media Coordinator to the Health Minister Meeran Yousuf said the same.

Besides the official confirmation, the account — that says it is managed by "Staffs" — is visibly fake as it ‘liked’ a tweet posted by a suspicious account with the handle @TheZaiduLeaks.

Screenshot of a tweet liked by @MinHealthpk.
Screenshot of a tweet liked by @MinHealthpk.

Despite the traces, one of the tweets sent out by the account about army officials has gone viral.

“Routine check-up in GHQ Rawalpindi by #COVID19 investigation team have (sic) found that 3 Lt.colonel, 2 Colonel, 2 Brigadier, 1 Maj general has been tested positive for #coronavirus. #CoronavirusPandemic,” it said.

Quoting the fake account, Indian news outlet Hindustan Times reported that eight Pakistani Army officers had tested positive for coronavirus.

Despite the questionable tweet, an official statement has not yet been released by concerned departments, including the health ministry and the Inter-Services Public Relations.

This is not the first time the account has posted shaky claims. Earlier, it had announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan was considering to impose "temporary restrictions on trade through #CPEC".

In another tweet, the account claimed that the prime minister's aide Dr Zafar Mirza had ordered that a special task force be constituted to do regular checkups of government and army officials to ensure they have not contracted COVID19.

The National Institute of Health can be found on Twitter under @NIH_Pakistan

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