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Prime Minister announces rapid response unit to tackle ‘fake news’

By Pavlena Todorova

The Prime Minister is to launch a rapid response unit to battle the proliferation of “fake news” online, it has been announced.

Officially named the National Security Communications Unit, it will be tasked with deterring adversaries and combating misinformation spread by state actors, Press Gazette understands.

The unit is also expected to monitor social media platforms and will be based in the Cabinet Office, according to Alex Aiken, executive director of the Government Communication Service (GCS).

Aiken said in an interview with PR Week that the civil service needed to “build a rapid response social media capability to deal quickly with disinformation and reclaim a fact-based public debate”.

Theresa May will authorise the creation of the unit, according to The Times. It also reported that insiders doubt that Whitehall could operate quickly enough to disrupt social media rumours.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Government is committed to tackling false information and the Government Communications Service plays a crucial role in this.

“Digital communications is constantly evolving and we are looking at ways to meet the challenging media landscape by harnessing the power of new technology for good.”

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Social media platforms, including the likes of Facebook and Twitter, have come under increased scrutiny in recent months amid concerns about Russian-backed interference in US and UK politics.

The UK’s fake news inquiry, being carried out by the Departure for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has asked both social media platforms for details about potential foreign interference in the Brexit vote.

Facebook has said it will expand its investigation into whether Russian agents attempted to influence the EU Referendum vote.

The Government was forced to defend itself last year after fake news surfaced online claiming that the Tories had voted that animals are not sentient beings and so did not feel pain. This was in fact false.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to give a statement to Parliament later this week laying out further details about new unit.

Picture: Channel 4

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