#Privacy: UK government cracks down on coronavirus fake news

A rapid response unit within the Cabinet Office is working to remove fake news and harmful content related to COVID-19

The specialist anti-fake news unit is currently dealing with up to 10 cases of coronavirus misinformation a day. 

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden explained that the new rapid response unit was needed “to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumours, which could cost lives.”

One fake article claimed a US doctor had cured hundreds of coronavirus patients, despite the information within the article contradicting official guidance. The article had gained more than 160,000 Facebook engagements by UK users within a 24-hour period. 

According to NewsGuard, the engagements were more than all of the NHS website engagements received from both Facebook and Twitter in the past 30 days. The fake article resulted being one of the top five most shared articles on the global pandemic in the UK last week. 

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.”

Last Tuesday, the UK government had started sending texts urging people to stay at home. Just hours later, many people had received fake messages claiming to be sent from the UK government, stating they had been fined for breaking lockdown rules. 

Conservative MP Damian Collins said: “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.”

Collins has launched an online service where the public can post screenshots of coronavirus-related information they have received. 

The UK government will also be re-launching the campaign “Don’t Feed the Beast”, urging the public to think carefully about what they post and share online. 

Just last week, Twitter announced its plan to remove content promoting unverified coronavirus claims.

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