News 

Labour calls for UK crackdown on tech firms over anti-vax content

Labour has accused the government of being complacent on “a matter of life and death” by failing to stand up to tech firms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram where much anti-vax content is shared.

Labour calls for UK crackdown on tech firms over anti-vax content
Photograph: Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash.

This comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that up to 90% of patients with Covid in intensive care are not jabbed.

There are fears that the spread of such content online, especially by social media influencers with many followers such as David Icke, are putting people off from receiving the vaccine.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said the spread of anti-vax content online “is hitting vaccine uptake, and tackling this is critical to getting the unvaccinated vaccinated.” She added, “One person put off the vaccine by dangerous anti-vaxxers is one too many.”

Powell said tech firms were “failing to wipe out vaccine lies” and that “government complacency on fake news means that they are failing to take action against online platforms that are facilitating the spread of disinformation.” She described it as a “matter of life and death” and called on the government to stand up to tech firms, “ignore their excuses, and introduce financial and criminal penalties for failures that lead to serious harm.”

A government spokesperson said ministers had “been providing people with advice and information about vaccines in one of the most extensive public health campaigns ever launched.”

They added that despite the fact that the government-commissioned counter disinformation policy forum was wound down in the summer, a counter-disinformation unit still exists and “continues to work closely with social media companies to identify and remove dangerous disinformation about vaccines.”

The spokesperson said: “Our tough new online safety laws will force these companies into action. Now that parliament has provided the necessary scrutiny of the legislation, we will introduce it as soon as possible.”

A senior government source told The Guardian: “It’s a real shame that Labour are spreading their own misinformation in a desperate attempt to score political points in the fight against the virus. The counter disinformation unit continues to carry out its work and has not been stood down.”

The urge for a crackdown on tech firms receives a frosty welcome from civil rights campaigners, however.

Barbara Bukovska, Senior Director for Law and Policy at Article 19 - a group that defends freedom of expression and information, told InPublishing that the organisation “shares concerns that anti-vaccination disinformation is a serious issue and can endanger public health,” but also recognises “that this is an extremely complex issue” and that tech firms “should not be made to act as referees on the truthfulness of information.”

She urges the government to “work on rebuilding trust with its citizens” and “look at various ways of promoting reliable and trustworthy information.” She suggests they “engage in proactive campaigns to disseminate accurate information about vaccines through trusted community leaders and local health practitioners” along with increasing transparency and “disclosure of official information and data, including online.”

Keep up-to-date with publishing news: sign up here for InPubWeekly, our free weekly e-newsletter.