The Government has set up a specialist unit to crack down on online fake news and disinformation about the coronavirus, working with tech giants to identify and block what it calls “false narratives”.
The Rapid Response Unit will be run out of the Cabinet Office and comprises representatives from the Government and the technology sector and is one of those feeding into the wide Counter Disinformation Cell led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
It has been working with disinformation specialists and social media companies and is already detecting up to 70 incidents a week, the Cabinet Office claims.
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.
“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.”
The Cabinet Office said Dowden will be contacting social media companies this week to discuss what other measures to implement to ensure that information about coronavirus on their platforms is accurate.
Last week, just hours after the Government started sending texts to every mobile user to stay at home, several fake versions of the message began circulating on social media.
MP Damian Collins, the former chairman of the DCMS select committee, called for those who knowingly share misinformation about Covid-19 to be prosecuted.
He added: "The information contagion around Covid-19 is so dangerous, because there is so much that people don’t know and so much happening all the time, that it is very easy for false rumours to take hold and spread."
The Government is also relaunching a campaign called "Don’t Feed the Beast", urging the public to think carefully about what they share online.