The Department of Public Safety of Newark, N.J., is warning residents they could be prosecuted for falsely reporting coronavirus cases in the city.
The city’s public safety director, Anthony Ambrose, cautioned Newark residents against posting false information about cases on social media, saying it can cause “unnecessary public alarm.”
Ambrose said in a statement that the department will investigate and try to identify those making false claims on social media, adding that state laws carry penalties for causing false public alarm.
“The State of New Jersey has laws regarding causing a false public alarm and we will enforce those laws,” Ambrose said. “Individuals who make any false or baseless reports about the coronavirus in Newark can set off a domino effect that can result in injury to residents and visitors and affect schools, houses of worship, businesses and entire neighborhoods,” he added.
Some on social media criticized the announcement, saying it violates the First Amendment.
The coronavirus has infected more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and killed at least 29.
The global outbreak is affecting the world’s economy and causing many events to be canceled, including sports competitions and political rallies. Several events, like the next Democratic debate, will occur without a live audience. Schools and universities are also canceling classes or moving them online.