26 September 2023

UNITED KINGDOM: Unit battles pandemic ‘fake news’

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The United Kingdom Government’s anti-fake news Rapid Response Unit is currently having its work cut out responding to around 70 instances of false information about the COVID-19 pandemic each week.

This includes misleading advice shared by self-styled, but unqualified experts, as well as cybercrime campaigns seeking to take advantage of the outbreak.

The unit, set up in 2018 to deal with fake news in general, says its response “can include a direct rebuttal on social media, working with platforms to remove harmful content and ensuring public health campaigns are promoted through reliable sources”.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Penny Mordaunt (pictured) urged the public to remain vigilant.

“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,” Ms Mordaunt said.

“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.”

The Parliamentary Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation is also asking citizens to flag examples of what they believe to be the deliberate dissemination of false information regarding Coronavirus.

Chair of the Sub-committee, Julian Knight said the examples would be considered by members during a newly launched investigation into the matter.

“The inquiry will include evidence sessions with social media companies, who will be asked to attend hearings as soon as Parliament is able to reopen,” Mr Knight said.

“The firms in question will be required to explain what they’re doing to deal with harmful content like this to help give people the reassurances they need at this difficult time.”

He said tech giants who allowed false information to proliferate on their platforms were morally responsible for tackling disinformation “and should face penalties if they don’t”.

London, 2 April 2020

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