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How we are fighting the spread of false coronavirus information online

Blog post by: Subhajit Banerjee, Thursday, 16 April 2020.

During World War 2, posters reminded the public that Careless Talk Costs Lives. It’s just as true today - and thanks to the internet, social media and messaging apps, careless talk spreads even further and faster.

That’s where the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) comes in. We’re based in the Cabinet Office and No10, and on Covid-19 we have stepped up our efforts significantly to identify and counter harmful narratives online – from ‘experts’ issuing dangerous health misinformation to fraudsters running phishing scams.

Up to 70 incidents a week, often false narratives containing multiple misleading claims, are being identified and resolved.

Working with departments across Government, we deploy a range of techniques to combat false narratives, including:

  • Direct rebuttal on social media working with platforms to remove harmful content ensuring public health campaigns are promoted through reliable sources.
  • Our work feeds into the wider Counter Disinformation Cell led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, made up of experts from across government and in the tech sector. The Cell engages with social media platforms and with disinformation specialists from civil society and academia.

The Government is also sharing its assessment of disinformation with international partners to better understand the global picture. Working collaboratively has already helped make the UK safer, providing ourselves and our allies with a better understanding of how different techniques are used as part of malicious information operations – and how to protect against those techniques more effectively.

Working with citizens

We are also asking the public to help us. The Government is running the Don’t Feed The Beast campaign which gives the public five easy steps to follow to identify whether information may be misleading:

  • 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

Stopping the spread of dangerous misinformation can prevent crimes and save lives. As our colleagues, we ask you to help us by watching out for false information and sharing our responses.

Here are some examples of the RRU rebutting false narratives:

Click here for the full blog post


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