Government unit crackdown on coronavirus misinformation and scams

Online blackmail dangers

Specialist units across government are working to combat false and misleading information about coronavirus.

The Rapid Response Unit, operating from within the Cabinet Office and No10, is tackling a range of harmful posts online – from purported ‘experts’ issuing dangerous misinformation to criminal fraudsters running phishing scams.

Up to 70 incidents a week, often containing multiple misleading claims, are being identified and shut down. The government’s ‘Don’t Feed the Beast’ public information campaign will also relaunch next week.

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.”

When misinformation or scams are identified,  the Rapid Response Unit coordinates with departments across Whitehall to take measures including a direct rebuttal on social media, working with platforms to remove content and ensuring public health campaigns are promoted through reliable sources.

The unit is one of the teams feeding 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 is engaging with social media platforms and with disinformation specialists from civil society and academia, to establish a comprehensive overview of the extent, scope and impact of disinformation related to coronavirus.

The Culture Secretary will be contacting social media companies this week to thank them for their good efforts to date, assess the progress made and discuss what other potential measures can be put in place to ensure people receive accurate information.

False information includes claims that holding your breath for ten seconds is a test for coronavirus and gargling water for 15 seconds is a cure.

The government says readers should read beyond the headline and scrutinise the source, and analyse the facts before sharing.

The measures follow recent advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, which revealed a range of attacks being perpetrated online by cyber criminals seeking to exploit coronavirus earlier this month.

This included guidance on how to spot and deal with suspicious emails related to coronavirus, as well as mitigate and defend against malware and ransomware.

The government is running the SHARE checklist and the  Don’t Feed The Beast campaign here.

SHARE steps:

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