The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) sub-committee on online harms and disinformation is calling for members of the public to flag up examples of disinformation and misinformation on social media about the novel coronavirus.
As part of its investigations, the sub-committee will hold hearings with social media companies alongside others to focus on what is being done to tackle deliberate attempts to present false narratives about COVID-19. The committee’s intervention comes after DCMS announced earlier this month that it was setting up a new Whitehall unit to tackle fake news around the coronavirus on social media platforms.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors said the calling out of fake news and disinformation regarding the Covid-19 crisis on social media was important. But Murray warned that there were dangers in taking too draconian steps to try and prevent the spread of misinformation during this time.
He said: “We must be careful that in an attempt to suppress misinformation, rumour and speculation that the digital platform providers are not backed into a corner where they take too broad an approach to removing or preventing false information. We do not want genuine news being suppressed by algorithms created in haste to trawl the net removing poorly identified content.
“The best method of combating false information and fake news is to shout-out and debunk such examples and to urge the public to rely on the mainstream media which is founded on well researched, edited, fact-based content.”
As part of its Campaign for Real News, the Society of Editors has previously warned that members of the public should not consider social media platforms as accurate sources of news on the novel coronavirus.
The DCMS sub-committee has said that examples sent in by members of the public will be considered as evidence to be presented to the Government and to social media companies.
DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP said: “The deliberate spreading of false information about COVID-19 could have serious consequences. Much of this is happening on social media through private channels, putting the onus on friends and family to identify whether the information they are seeing is misleading.
“There have been some shocking examples in recent weeks and we want people to send us what they’ve come across.
“We will call in social media companies as soon as the House returns to explain what they’re doing to deal with harmful content like this to help give people the reassurances they need at this difficult time. Tech giants who allow this to proliferate on their platforms are morally responsible for tackling disinformation and should face penalties if they don’t.”