The UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has deployed a Rapid Response team to help tackle misleading narratives and phishing scams that are proliferating during the coronavirus crisis.
The unit is reported to have identified and resolved up to 70 incidents a week. Firstly identifying false or misleading information and then deploying an appropriate response, which might include direct countering on social media, working with platforms to delete harmful content, and making sure that public health campaigns are promoted via reliable sources.
The Unit is part of the Counter Disinformation Cell, which is composed of experts from government, the tech industry and academia.
The DCMS is also relaunching its ‘Don’t Feed the Beast’ public information campaign to help people identify misleading information online.
One pervasive and damaging rumour, which has appeared in various guises, links the coronavirus outbreak to 5G. The rumours equate the early rollout of 5G in China with the outbreak of coronavirus. They have become so pervasive it has become necessary to debunk them (see also No, 5G didn’t cause the coronavirus pandemic). It’s easy to dismiss such rumours as unimportant, because the telecoms industry is well aware they are simply untrue, but the heightened state of emotions in communities means that people are more vulnerable to believing even outlandish rumours.
The irony is that while 5G most definitely did not cause coronavirus, coronavirus may have an enormous impact on the rollout of 5G. It could accelerate investment in 5G as the demand for bandwidth grows due to permanently altered user behaviour. It could also slow the rollout in certain countries due to a drop in demand – not only because of untrue rumours, but because people struggle to afford new handsets and more expensive services.