Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 29 May 2020

Coronavirus: UK government detects 10 incidents a day of fake news on crisis

The World Health Organisation has warned of an “infodemic” of disinformation about the virus spreading around the world

A British government Rapid Response Unit is working to counter rumours and fake news about the novel coronavirus . Reuters
A British government Rapid Response Unit is working to counter rumours and fake news about the novel coronavirus . Reuters

Specialist units across the British government are working to counter false information about the coronavirus pandemic, the government said on Monday.

Officials said the teams are responding to as many as 70 incidents a week including misleading or false narratives and phishing scams carried out by criminals hoping to take advantage of fears surrounding the spread of the virus.

Treasury minister Penny Mordaunt said myths were being widely peddled. “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 said.

The Counter Disinformation Cell, led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working with social media platforms, as well as with disinformation specialists, to assess the impact of rumours and misinformation related to coronavirus.

UK 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.

The government, Mr Dowden said, was working with social media companies to fight disinformation surrounding the virus.

The culture secretary said he would be “pressing” the companies “for further action to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumours which could cost lives”.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre earlier this month revealed a range of cyber-attacks being used by criminals to exploit fears over the pandemic.

The government is calling on the public to help fight the spread of misleading information surrounding the virus. It is also re-launching a campaign called “Don’t Feed the Beast,” urging people to think carefully about what they share online.

Ms Mordaunt said people should “take some simple steps before sharing information online, such as always reading beyond the headline and scrutinising the source”.

Governments around the world are moving to counter misleading information about the pandemic.

The European Union has warned of a pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign aiming to aggravate the coronavirus pandemic.

Hungary is set to pass a new law on coronavirus including jail terms for people caught spreading misinformation.

Updated: March 30, 2020 05:48 PM

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