Fighting fake science: the Counter Disinformation Cell’s crackdown on coronavirus lies

Claims that gargling water for 15 seconds can cure COVID-19 symptoms, or that holding your breath for a certain amount of time is a valid test for the virus, have made the rounds on social media – with some organisations emailing their employees or clients statements along these lines. As Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt explained, “this is the kind of false advice we have seen coming from sources claiming to be medical experts.”

Following advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, who discovered a spike in cyber-attacks exploiting the coronavirus in March, the government has stepped up its measures against disinformation, with the Rapid Response Unit operating from No.10 and the Cabinet Office around the clock.

This unit is part of the wider DCMS’s Counter Disinformation Cell. So far, the Cell has been collaborating with social media platforms to remove misinformation and in some cases challenge misleading or false statements with direct rebuttal.

Accuracy is at the heart of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While that regulation applies to personal data, ensuring that your organisation has a healthy and robust data policy with accuracy at its heart is important not just for data protection compliance, but for the fight against disinformation.

The government is asking the public to help stop the spread of potentially highly dangerous misinformation by following official guidance – the ‘SHARE’ checklist, which entails assessing these things before posting on social media:

  • 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 or spelling

Harry Smithson, 2nd April 2020