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Tech giants agree measures to tackle vaccine fake news with UK government

Social media platforms and the UK government announce they have agreed a package of measures designed to limit the spread of vaccine disinformation and help people find the information they need about any coronavirus vaccinations.

Tech giants agree measures to tackle vaccine fake news with UK government
Oliver Dowden: "Covid disinformation is dangerous and could cost lives."

As reported by Mariella Brown on the Society of Editors website:

At a virtual roundtable, Facebook, Twitter and Google said they would commit in principle that no company should “profit from or promote” Covid-19 anti-vaccine mis or disinformation, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department of Health announced at the weekend.

The platforms also pledged to step up to work with public health bodies to promote factual and reliable messages and would respond more quickly to flagged content.

The meeting with Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden and Health Secretary Matt Hancock raised concerns about the length of time false information about coronavirus vaccines remains on platforms.

The ministers highlighted that robust and swift action must be taken against misleading content which could discourage people from protecting themselves or their loved ones.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for DCMS, said: “Covid disinformation is dangerous and could cost lives. While social media companies are taking steps to stop it spreading on their platforms there is much more that can be done.

“So I welcome this new commitment from social media giants not to profit from or promote flagged anti-vax content, given that making money from this dangerous content would be wrong.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the government has set up a fact-checking initiatives including a cross-Whitehall unit to counter coronavirus fake news on social media.

During the public health crisis, the Society of Editors has said that promoting trusted news media is crucial in fighting disinformation – with Dowden reinforcing earlier this year that the news media was fulfilling a ‘vital’ role amid the crisis in providing accurate news and updates to the public.

On reaching the agreement with the UK government, Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s Head of UK Public Policy, said: “In the first months of the pandemic we directed more than 3.5 million visits to official advice from the NHS and UK government and we’re pleased to continue to support public health efforts.”

Ronan Harris, Google UK Managing Director, said: “Today, we are redoubling our commitment to take effective action against covid vaccine misinformation and to continue to work with partners across Government and industry to make sure people in the UK have easy access to helpful and accurate Information.”

Katy Minshall, Head of UK Public Policy at Twitter UK, added: “We remain committed to combating misinformation about COVID-19, and continue to take action on accounts that violate our Rules. We look forward to continued collaboration with government and industry.”

The principles the platforms have now agreed are as follows:

  • To commit to the principle that no user or company should directly profit from COVID-19 vaccine mis/disinformation. This removes an incentive for this type of content to be promoted, produced and be circulated.
  • To ensure a timely response to mis/disinformation content flagged to them by the government.
  • To continue to work with public health bodies to ensure that authoritative messages about vaccine safety reach as many people as possible.
  • To join new policy forums over the coming months to improve responses to mis/disinformation and to prepare for future threats.