Government brings in religious and community leaders to tackle online vaccine misinformation among BAME communities

Imams, pastors and doctors will be among those encouraging citizens to ‘check before you share’

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The government has recruited religious and other community leaders to help tackle the spread of vaccine misinformation among ethnic minority communities on social media.

The campaign is being overseen by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which has created a toolkit that includes videos and other posts designed to be shared online in response to questionable information posted on social networks or private communications channels, such as WhatsApp.

The initiative was launched in light of “concerns from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies of low vaccine uptake amongst ethnic minority communities”, the government said. 

“A recent Ofcom study… showed that people from a minority ethnic background were twice as likely as white respondents to rely more on people they know, people in their local area or people on social media for information about coronavirus,” it added.

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To help combat this problem, DCMS has asked “trusted local community figures such as imams, pastors and clinicians” to record short clips and lend their name and image to posts in which they provide advice on how to identify false information, what can be done to stop its spread, and point people towards official sources of information, such as the NHS website.

The department claimed that the initiative – which encourages citizens to “check before you share” – is “the first government campaign designed for private instant messaging services where there are concerns that false information about coronavirus is spreading – and that not enough has been done to tackle it”.

Dr Onyinye Okonkwo, GP at the Wand Medical Centre in Birmingham – one of whose posts is pictured above – said: “I know that many members of the black community have concerns about the information being sent on social media about the vaccine. As a doctor, I understand that this information can be worrying. I advise everyone to check with a reliable source, such as the NHS website and spread the right information, not the virus.”

Minister for digital and culture Caroline Dinenage added: “We want to harness the power of social media to tackle false information and encourage take up of life-saving vaccines among ethnic minorities. Our new toolkit and campaign will help people access reliable and factual information on vaccines and builds on the good work platforms are already doing to promote trusted quality information.”

Alongside the government-led initiative, Facebook is also partnering with fact-checking organisation Full Fact to run a campaign of ads dedicated to helping users spot false information.

“Over the last year we’ve been connecting people with authoritative information about Covid-19 – directing over ten million visits to NHS and Government websites from Facebook and Instagram,” said Rebecca Stimson, the social network’s head of UK public policy. “As part of this new campaign we’ll be providing free advertising to leaders in communities where there are concerns about the vaccines, to help them widely share accurate information. During the pandemic we’ve removed twelve million pieces of harmful misinformation from Facebook and Instagram, and introduced limits on WhatsApp which have led to a 70% reduction in highly forwarded private messages.”


Sam Trendall

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