Government cracks down on spread of false coronavirus (COVID-19) information online

Holding your breath for ten seconds is “not a test for coronavirus”

Specialist units across government are working to combat false and misleading narratives about coronavirus. This is to ensure that the public has the right information to protect themselves and save lives.

The Rapid Response Unit, operating from within the Cabinet Office and No10, is tackling a range of harmful narratives online. From purported ‘experts’ issuing dangerous misinformation to criminal fraudsters running phishing scams.

Up to 70 incidents a week, often containing multiple misleading claims, are being identified and resolved.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

“We need people to follow expert medical advice and stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. It is vital that this message hits home and that misinformation and disinformation which undermines it is knocked down quickly.

“We’re working with social media companies, and I’ll be pressing them this week for further action to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumours which could cost lives.”

The public can help stop the spread of potentially dangerous or false stories circulating online by following official government guidance – the ‘SHARE’ checklist:

  • 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 and spelling

Penny Mordaunt, Paymaster General, said:

“Holding your breath for ten seconds is not a test for coronavirus and gargling water for 15 seconds is not a cure – this is the kind of false advice we have seen coming from sources claiming to be medical experts.

“That is why government communicators are working in tandem with health bodies to promote official medical advice, rebut false narratives and clamp down on criminals seeking to exploit public concern during this pandemic.

“But the public can also help with this effort, so today we implore them to take some simple steps before sharing information online, such as always reading beyond the headline and scrutinising the source.”

When false narratives are identified, the Unit coordinates with Whitehall departments to deploy the appropriate response.

This includes a direct rebuttal on social media and working with platforms to remove harmful content. It also includes ensuring that public health campaigns are promoted through reliable sources.