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Lemon juice, 5G and bioweapons: social media told to tackle Covid-19 fake news

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK government is urging social media firms to tackle coronavirus-related fake news over concerns that it could change the public response to the outbreak.

Ever since the virus entered the public consciousness, fake news articles about the disease propagated rapidly on social media platforms - everything from conspiracy theories about how the new 5G networks were causing it, to supposed cures such as lemon juice, liquid silver or even hot water.

Other more politically minded fake news has even gone so far as to blame China for deliberately creating the virus as a chemical weapon.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has endorsed new social media guidance drawn up by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a non-profit group researching online hate.

The CCDH's ‘Don’t Spread The Virus’ campaign advises social media users not to share or comment on falsehoods they find online, as this simply rebroadcasts misinformation to their own networks and directs social media algorithms to show the misleading content to more users.

Users are also being advised to block anyone they don’t know sharing misinformation; to message privately anyone they know who is sharing misinformation and ask them not to do so, and report misinformation to social media platforms and group admins.

The campaign also urges people to stick to NHS guidelines, rather than seeking other sources.

“We must remain absolutely vigilant to inaccurate stories about coronavirus being spread online,” Dowden said. “The government is monitoring the extent and impact of misinformation and will not hesitate to intervene to help the public follow accurate information and guidance.

“I urge the industry to play their part, too, and act fast to stem the spread of misinformation on coronavirus on their platforms. We can also all take action now by following these guidelines from the CCDH to tackle fake news in our everyday online lives.”

Imran Ahmed, CCDH CEO, said: “Social media is currently awash with conspiracy theories, fake news and incorrect medical advice about coronavirus and Covid-19. Some of it is produced by extremists seeking to undermine faith in government and experts; some by grifters seeking to sell false cures, and some are just sadly misinformed and think they’re doing the right thing by spreading the wrong advice.

“When people see something they recognise as misinformation, it’s natural for them to want to call it out, but on social media this instinct only helps to spread that misinformation further."

The UK Government has established a WhatsApp bot group, which the public can join and ask questions in order to receive official guidance on coronavirus.

Social media firms including Facebook and Google are also using their platforms to push approved Covid-19 guidance.

Facebook said more than one billion of its users had been directed to official health guidance, including that issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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