Hancock and Dowden ask social networks to stem vaccine misinformation

Ministers met with platforms last month


Digital secretary Oliver Dowden   Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

Health secretary Matt Hancock and digital secretary Oliver Dowden met recently with representatives of social media companies to ask them to take action on misinformation spread about coronavirus vaccines.

According to Carline Dinenage, the minister for digital and culture, the meeting saw the two cabinet ministers secure commitments from the attending companies – who were not named – that they would take quicker action to combat misleading posts on their networks.

A key focus of the discussion was stemming the spread of false information surrounding vaccines for coronavirus – the rollout of which could begin as early as next week.

“DCMS secretary of state and DHSC secretary of state hosted a joint roundtable in November to ask social media platforms to reduce the spread of harmful and misleading narratives, particularly around the potential Covid-19 vaccine,” Dinenage said. “Social media platforms agreed to continue to work with public health bodies to ensure that authoritative messages about vaccine safety reach as many people as possible; to commit to swifter responses to flagged content and to commit to the principle that no user or company should directly profit from Covid-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation.”

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The minister’s comments, made last week in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Ruth Jones, came just a few days before the news, announced today, that a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, has been approved for use in the UK. There are two further vaccines currently undergoing regulatory approval processes, and the drive to vaccinate the population over the coming months will be “one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we have faced as a nation”, Hancock said today in parliament.

The recent ministerial meeting to limit the impact of misinformation about vaccines was, according to Dinenage, the latest salvo of an ongoing campaign, led by the Counter Disinformation Unit that was “stood up” in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport shortly before the country went into the first national lockdown.

She said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have been working closely with social media platforms to quickly identify and help them respond to potentially harmful content on their platforms, including removing harmful content in line with their terms and conditions, and promoting authoritative sources of information.”


Sam Trendall

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