Is COVID-19 The UK's Fake News Moment?

Sometimes things change around a major event. Could COVID-19 be the time that fake news is brought to the fore? Could it be the event that finally prompts the Government to pass a law, rather than rely on urging social media channels to take posts down?

It's a point that MP Damian Collins was keen to make when helping to launch Infotagion. He is the Conservative MP, you may remember, who empty-chaired Zuckerberg for avoiding a request to come to answer parliamentarians' questions. 

The Infotagion service is interesting. Rather like Snopes, it allows members of the public to send in texts, messages and posts they have seen that will then be fact-checked. The first two items on the site today suggested people to do not share the rumour the COVID-19 will peak this week in the UK or that is was made in a US lab. Both are false. 



I know it seems obvious that a mad American scientist didn't mix up a viral concoction and release it on the world. But these are challenging times and I've seen quite a lot of misinformation flying around. Anyone else been told to drink hot tea regularly or to hold your breath for 10 seconds to either stop the disease spreading or to check whether you have it? 

Channel 4 research actually found that nearly two in three people have reported seeing fake news about the virus on social media. It's little wonder, then, that the channel is viewed as less reliable than television and newspapers for updates on the virus. In fact, social is only trusted by around four in ten people, while tv news is trusted by eight in ten people. 

At the moment, we leave it up to the social media companies to remove fake news, but the Government is considering how to better regulate the tech giants. There's a consultation period right now where people can give suggestions.

I would be incredibly surprised if the current coronavirus misinformation out there does not lead to stringent rules requiring fake news on such an important topic as health to be immediately removed. 

I'm not so sure the Government will go as far as to prosecute people who post this drivel, because they will likely argue they had no idea it was fake and that everyone else was sharing the "information" so they did as well.

The social media giants will find that draft legislation is likely to emerge later on this year that comes down far harder on them than previously imagined.

With so much harmful misinformation out there, the Government will need to be seen to be making a stand and the result will be a requirement to take down fake news in a short amount of time before it goes -- for want of a better word -- viral.

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