Government wages war on coronavirus fake news with 'counter-disinformation cell'

The government is fighting a running battle against fake news about COVID-19, with up to 10 incidents a day being identified and tackled by specialist units, it announced today.

Government communicators are fighting a running battle against fake coronavirus news (pic credit: MarioGuti/Getty Images)
Government communicators are fighting a running battle against fake coronavirus news (pic credit: MarioGuti/Getty Images)

A ‘counter-disinformation cell’ is being led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and includes experts from across government as well as the tech sector.

It is working with social-media platforms and with disinformation specialists to establish an overview of the extent, scope and impact of disinformation related to coronavirus.

Rapid response

One of the teams feeding into the counter-disinformation cell is the Rapid Response Unit (RRU), which was set up in 2018 and operates from within the Cabinet Office and No. 10 to counter misinformation and disinformation.

The RRU is working to combat several “harmful narratives” that are being spread online. These range from so-called ‘experts’ giving dangerous misinformation to criminal fraudsters running phishing scams.

It works by using a combination of rebuttals on social media, working with online firms to take down content, and promoting public health campaigns.

Cross-government

Specialist units across government are working “at pace to combat false and misleading narratives about coronavirus”, according to today’s announcement.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We need people to follow expert medical advice and stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. It is vital that this message hits home and that misinformation and disinformation which undermines [it] is knocked down quickly.”

He added: “We’re working with social-media companies, and I’ll be pressing them this week for further action to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumours which could cost lives.”

Questioning content

The Government will also launch a ‘Don’t Feed the Beast’ public information campaign next week in a bid to help people be more sceptical over what they read online.

Penny Mordaunt MP, the Paymaster General, said: “Holding your breath for 10 seconds is not a test for coronavirus and gargling water for 15 seconds is not a cure – this is the kind of false advice we have seen coming from sources claiming to be medical experts.”

She added: “That is why government communicators are working in tandem with health bodies to promote official medical advice, rebut false narratives and clamp down on criminals seeking to exploit public concern during this pandemic.”

Mordaunt called on people to support the Government’s efforts and “take some simple steps before sharing information online, such as always reading beyond the headline and scrutinising the source”.

Tips

People are being asked to play their part in fighting against the spread of potentially dangerous or false stories by following the Government’s SHARE checklist below:

  • Source - make sure information comes from a trusted source.
  • Headline - always read beyond the headline.
  • Analyse - check the facts.
  • Retouched - does the image or video look as though it has been doctored?
  • Error - look out for bad grammar and spelling.




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