Conservative MP Damien Collins has called for the circulation of fake coronavirus news to become a criminal offence.
Collins, formerly the chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media And Sport (DCMS) Select Committee, has argued that people are knowingly and “maliciously” spreading false information about the virus and related issues (via ITV).
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“Lots of the debate around fake news has been in the political context, around election campaigning, but here we are seeing it in a public health crisis,” he said. The MP suggested that it should be an offence to “knowingly and maliciously spread disinformation” that could endanger public health.
“I think that should be an offence to do that, and should be an offence for social media companies not to take that content down,” Collins added.
The MP has partnered with Infotagion, a website which aims to combat misinformation and fake news about Covid-19. The website sees members of the public post any information they have been sent about the disease so it can be verified or debunked.
“In some ways, this is the first public health crisis in the age of social media disinformation, and therefore it requires a different response… I think part of the confusion comes because there is so much happening every day – new restrictions, new information.
“The information contagion around Covid-19 is so dangerous, because there is so much that people don’t know and so much happening all the time, that it is very easy for false rumours to take hold and spread.”
This news follows growing reports of fake news appearing on social media channels like WhatsApp and Facebook. The government is now operating a ‘Rapid Response Unit’ to quickly deploy counter-responses to the most widespread and harmful misinformation.
Up to 70 notable ‘incidents’ of misinformation are being detected per week, the government told ITV.