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March 17, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:03am

Government delay over coronavirus ‘fake news’ unit questioned by media committee chairman

By Freddy Mayhew

The Government’s delay in setting up a unit to fight “fake news” around coronavirus (Covid-19) has been questioned by the chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

A Counter Disinformation Unit was created by the Government last week to respond to inaccurate or misleading stories and posts about the virus.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman Julian Knight MP said he supported the initiative, but cited a report in the Guardian published on 1 February about the spread of misinformation around the virus.

“We’ve known since January about deliberate attempts to spread fear and falsehoods on social media about coronavirus, with potentially serious outcome,” said Knight (pictured).

He said the committee, which runs a sub-committee on disinformation, wanted reassurances that the unit “will be working closely with social media companies to ensure that people receive vitally important and accurate information and can trust what they see online.”

The BBC’s media editor has said a “significant chunk of the supposedly fake news” on coronavirus is “just badly edited material which is then used on social media to confirm the prejudices of those who see it”.

Knight asked the Government for more information on the unit, including who is staffing it, how it works with social media and health officials, who it reports to and how information will be shared.

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He also asked if the unit would be made permanent and, if not, how its expertise and experience can be retained for future public emergencies.

The Government has been asked to respond by tomorrow ahead of an evidence session before the sub-committee on 25 March.

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