Turkish police said they had arrested 78 people they accused of causing fear and panic by “sharing provocative posts” about last week’s earthquake on social media, adding that 20 of them had been remanded in custody.

The death toll in Turkey and Syria from the devastating earthquake exceeded 41,000 and millions of people need humanitarian assistance.

Turkey’s General Directorate of Security said it has identified 613 people it accuses of making provocative posts, and legal proceedings have been launched against 293. Of that group, the chief prosecutor ordered the arrest of 78.

The directorate added that 46 websites were shut down for running “phishing spam” in an attempt to steal donations for earthquake victims, and that they shut down 15 social media accounts posing as official institutions.

Last October, Turkey’s parliament approved a law under which journalists and social media users could be jailed for up to three years for spreading “disinformation”, raising concerns from human rights groups and European countries for freedom of expression, especially in view of the presidential and parliamentary elections that are expected to be held in the summer.

President Erdogan’s ruling party has said the law was needed to tackle false accusations on social media and would not silence the opposition. The government has also blocked social media in the past.

Last week Turkey blocked access to Twitter for about 12 hours from Wednesday afternoon until the early hours of Thursday, citing the spread of disinformation, prompting an angry reaction from opposition politicians and people using the platform to find loved ones. and share information about rescue efforts.

Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun tweeted yesterday Monday that Turkey is experiencing “severe information pollution” and that the authorities will issue a daily bulletin correcting false information.

Within a week of the earthquake, about 6,200 pieces of false information and news were reported to the government, Altun added.