The Downing Street anti-fake news unit is dealing with up to 10 cases of misinformation about coronavirus per day, as it has emerged that some articles are getting more views than all those published by the NHS combined.
Oliver Dowden, the secretary for culture and digital, said the government’s new rapid response unit was trying to remove “falsehoods and rumors” about the life-threatening disease and was trying to crack down on phishing scams.
An article on the WND.com website that claims that an American doctor treated hundreds of coronavirus patients, despite the fact that the information in the article contradicts official guidelines, has received more than 160,000 Facebook engagements from part of UK users in a 24 hour period.
According to research conducted by NewsGuard, this has been more of all the NHS website commitments received from Facebook and Twitter in the past 30 days.
The doctor’s article, which claimed to treat people with an antimalarial and zinc drug, was one of the top five most shared articles on Covid-19 in the UK last week.
Dowden said: “We need people who follow the advice of expert doctors and stay home, protect the national health service and save lives. It is vital that this message arrives home and that the disinformation and misinformation that undermines it is brought down quickly. We are working with social media companies and I will reward them this week for further action to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumors that could cost lives. “
When false narratives are identified online or on social media, the government’s rapid response unit coordinates with Whitehall’s departments to find a way to deal with the content if it cannot be removed. This may include direct rebuttal on social media and ensure the promotion of public health campaigns through reliable sources.
The unit is one of the teams that feeds on the wider “counter-deformation cell” led by the Department for digital, culture, media and sport, made up of experts from all over the government and the technology sector.
Dowden will contact social media companies again this week to discuss what other measures could be put in place to ensure that accurate and honest information constantly reaches users of their platforms.
Penny Mordaunt, the payer’s general, said: “Holding your breath for 10 seconds is not a test for coronavirus and gargling for 15 seconds is not a cure – this is the kind of false advice we have seen coming from sources that declare to be medical experts.
“This is why government communicators are working in tandem with healthcare organizations to promote official medical advice … but the public can also help with this effort, so today we are begging them to take a few simple steps before sharing. information online, like reading over headline and scanning the source. “
Among the examples that the rebuttal unit investigated is a fake text sent after the British government sent a message to the public about staying home. The second fake message out there said that some people had already been fined.
A series of scams that claim to come from HMRC that offer tax refunds have also appeared online, including documented screenshots of the official Gov.uk government website.
The unit asked the telecommunications sector to block offensive text message aggregators and asked for the removal of malicious content from Internet service providers. HMRC digital teams have also used social media to alert the public of the scam.
WhatsApp messages and Facebook posts widely circulated since the beginning of the epidemic include false medical advice that claims to be from the “Stanford Hospital Board”. This advice included drinking or gargling water to “wash the virus in the stomach, where the acid could kill it.”
The unit asked the Department of Health and Social Care to create and share Facebook and Twitter posts to refute false medical advice and direct the public to official guidance.