How the Rapid Response Unit actually works (and why it's important)

In April 2018, the Cabinet Office launched the Rapid Response Unit (RRU). The team operates across Number 10 and the Cabinet Office, working to counter misinformation and disinformation, and reclaim a fact-based public debate.

The RRU's FACT model for responding to misleading narratives: Find, Assess, Create, Target
The RRU's FACT model for responding to misleading narratives: Find, Assess, Create, Target
Using a range of cutting-edge tools, a central team of analysts, data scientists and media and digital experts work round the clock to monitor online breaking news stories and social media discussion. 

The team produces topical email briefings, deep-dive reports and live dashboards. 

This accurate, actionable and audience-specific insight helps government understand the current media environment and assess the effectiveness of public communications. 

Additionally, using the FACT model (below), the unit can identify and work with departments to respond to misinformation and disinformation quickly and intelligently. 

This includes working closely with the National Security Communications Team during times of crisis to ensure official information is highly visible.

For example, during the military action in Syria, the team worked continuously to identify misinformation, implementing targeted digital communication activity to key audiences where appropriate. 

RRU analysts were the first to flag instances of misinformation (such as Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s claim about the origin of the nerve agent used in the Salisbury poisoning) and highlighted the lack of prominence of HMG information when people searched for Syria news. 

Often the stories are flagged directly to Whitehall press offices, which are best placed to assess policy accuracy and respond directly themselves.

For this reason the unit is also responsible for modernising the Cabinet Office media monitoring unit’s traditional cuttings and transcription service to include social media stories relating to specific policy areas.  

GCS’ new Accelerate Programme is also developing bespoke training to train media officers on FACT (below) as well as interpreting digital communications data. This includes a series of secondments to the RRU.

The GCS FACT model

The Rapid Response Unit developed a 'FACT' model to identify and respond to misleading narratives and content appearing online. It consists of four steps:

FIND

Constantly monitor online news sources and publicly available social media posts to identify themes/discussions/stories that promote false and misleading information relating to HMG. This may be misinformation or disinformation. 

ASSESS

Assess the scale of engagement with the risk identified and establish whether it is appropriate to respond to the content. Flag to relevant press offices and advisers, with a recommended approach to response. This is almost never direct rebuttal.

CREATE

Create appropriate content with the aim of rebalancing the narrative and promoting official HMG information. This may be a press office line, a social media post, or the creation of a new asset. 

TARGET

Target content to ensure HMG information is highly visible and accessible to the public.

Why is it important?

Citizens are exposed to an increasing number of increasingly misleading messages

Influence has shifted from traditional media outlets to individuals and online organisations, who are not bound by the same ethics standards

Content can be shared at an exponential rate, with rapid and widespread effects

Misleading stories have the potential to misrepresent government and confuse the public.

Questions you should ask

Do I understand what misinformation and disinformation are and what forms they take?

Is my team actively monitoring the whole media landscape and prepared to respond?

Do I know how to use the FACT model to accurately identify and intelligently respond to false stories?

Are we actively strengthening our team’s online voice and social media presence on a daily basis?

Is our own content engaging, accurate and clear?

What you should avoid

• Rushing responses

• Directly engaging with creators of false content

• Dismissing citizens’ concerns.

Fiona Bartosch is head of the Rapid Response Unit & Transformation

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