Tuesday 17 March 2020 9:37 am

MPs blast government ‘delay’ in virus fake news crackdown

MPs have lambasted the government over its ‘delayed’ attempt to clamp down on disinformation relating to coronavirus.

Earlier this month the government launched a new cyber unit aimed at preventing the spread of fake news about the Covid-19 outbreak on social media.

Read more: New government cyber unit to grill social media firms over coronavirus fake news

The team, assembled from departments across Whitehall, will also hold discussions with tech firms about how they can monitor interference and prevent the spread of disinformation.

But the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee today called for an explanation as to why the government took two months to set up the new unit.

It also asked for reassurances that the new team had the necessary expertise to tackle both disinformation and misinformation online.

In a letter to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, the committee warned that false narratives could undermine efforts by the government and public health organisations to deal with the virus.

“We’ve known since January about deliberate attempts to spread fear and falsehoods on social media about coronavirus, with potentially serious outcomes,” said DCMS committee chair Julian Knight.

“We support the government’s decision to tackle disinformation and misinformation about Covid-19 at this critical time but question why it has taken so long for ministers to set this up.”

Knight also called for reassurances that the cyber unit would be working closely with tech companies.

Read more: Tech giants summoned to Downing Street in coronavirus crackdown

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week hauled executives from major tech firms to Downing Street as part of the government’s efforts to tackle misinformation.

At the Tech CEO Round Table, chaired by Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings, bosses were asked to commit “data, assets and expertise” to the fight against the outbreak.

DCMS has been contacted for comment.