March 4, 2020 / 3:31 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Putin says Russia targeted from abroad by fake news on coronavirus

(Updates with earlier Interfax report)

MOSCOW, March 4 (Reuters) - Russia has been targeted from abroad by foes spreading fake news about the coronavirus to sow panic, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

Putin’s remarks came as Russia’s communications regulator said it had shut down access to some social media posts containing falsehoods about the virus outbreak.

“The Federal Security Service reports that they (the fakes) are mainly being organised from abroad. But unfortunately this always happens to us,” Putin said on Wednesday, in televised remarks at a government meeting. “The purpose of such fakes is clear: to sow panic among the population.”

A Russian cyber security company, Group-IB, on Monday identified what it said were thousands of fake news posts on messaging services and social networks such as Russia’s VK alleging that thousands of Muscovites have caught the virus.

Russia has not reported any confirmed cases of people contracting coronavirus on its territory, although six people who picked up the virus elsewhere have received or are receiving treatment in Russia, according to authorities. The social media posts alleged that the government was covering up cases.

Interfax news agency said Russian authorities had identified people suspected of circulating false reports about the virus. An earlier headline from the news agency said people had been detained for spreading false reports, but Interfax later said this was inaccurate.

Russia has long brushed off accusations from other countries about spreading fake news on social media.

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, said in a statement it was blocking access to an array of social media posts on VK as well as on Facebook. (Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Maria Kiselyova; additional reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva and Nadezhda Tsydenova Editing by Peter Graff)

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