ATHENS – With schools set to reopen Sept. 7 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greek police cybercrime unit is investigating groups on Facebook urging parents and children to defy requirements to wear masks in class.
The probe began after media reports about the social media campaign, yet another driven by extremists and conspiracy theorists who either say the pandemic is a hoax or being overstated so the government can control them.
The police unit is expected to ask Facebook to revoke the group managers’ confidentiality rights so that they can charge them with disseminating misinformation, said Kathimerini.
One of the groups has been urging parents and schoolchildren to refuse to wear masks aimed at preventing the spread of the virus as it's soaring again in Greece, mostly because people aren't wearing masks or staying safe distances apart.
Some of the information being disseminated said masks are harmful, the report said, adding to the worry that people will be misled about health measures that are being tightened.
“It’s simple. If there’s no risk from using a mask, then the minister should assure us of that in writing,” one member wrote, referring to Education Minister Niki Kerameus.
“The mask on children can provoke sudden death!” another member claimed without offering any proof, a common tactic of those driving conspiracy theories that Facebook has allowed to be posted.
“Even if they force us, at gunpoint, to send our child (to school) wearing a mask, there is another way to avoid it,” a third member wrote without specifying what it was, extremists disbelieving scientific evidence in favor of political populists.
A similar group in Cyprus, also on Facebook, said it has more than 24,000 members but put a disclaimer on their postings refusing to take responsibility for what they write.
Earlier in August, the Athens Court of First Instance prosecutor ordered a preliminary investigation into reports, mostly websites, exhorting people to defy COVID-19 health measures even though that has driven up cases.
The government imposed an early lockdown on March before a single fatality, the move seen the reason why there were relatively fewer cases and deaths than most countries.
But after a gradual week-by-week reopening of non-essential businesses beginning May 4 there's been a second wave as people are either ignoring or defying requirements to wear masks and stay a safe social distance of a least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart.
Masks are mandatory in public spots such as supermarkets and where people gather but despite spot checks enforcement hasn't been able to catch enough violators to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.
The probe will try to determine whether aims to establish whether to charge people posting misinformation with public incitement to civil disobedience. One report said COVID-19 was “manufactured” in China before being modified in the US under the coordination of Bill Gates, among the most popular conspiracies.
In Greece, there was another record number for a 24-hour period on Aug. 20 with 269 more cases bringing the total to 7,934 and 235 deaths, the government reluctant to impose more measures that could affect the falling economy.