‘Not appropriate’ to comment on volume of disinformation flagged by government unit, minister says

Written by Sam Trendall on 5 March 2021 in News

Digital minister Dinenage declines to detail the work of the Counter Disinformation Unit

Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The government’s digital minister has claimed it would not be appropriate to provide details of the scale of disinformation being tackled by a dedicated unit formed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Counter Disinformation Unit was “stood up” in March last year in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to seek out, monitor and help take down false information concerning coronavirus. The government claimed the CDU, which brings together analysis teams from across various departments, was an existing unit that had been reactivated to helped deal with the specific issues of disinformation surrounding the pandemic.

But, asked by fellow Conservative MP Sir Charles Walker how many pieces of content were flagged to social media companies last year, minister for digital Caroline Dinenage declined to comment on the scale of the problem being tackled by the unit.

Related content

“It would not be appropriate for the unit to provide a running commentary on the volume of content flagged with social media platforms,” she said.

Despite the lack of detail, the minister claimed that “the government takes the issue of disinformation very seriously”. 

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been vitally important that the public has accurate information and DCMS is leading work across Government to tackle disinformation,” she said. “The Counter Disinformation Unit brings together cross-Government monitoring and analysis capabilities. The Unit’s primary function is to provide a comprehensive picture of the extent, scope and impact of disinformation and misinformation regarding Covid-19 and to work with partners to ensure appropriate action is taken.”

Dinenage added: “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.”

The digital minister’s reticence is not the first time the government has been incongruously secretive about the operations of its work to counter false information. 

In early 2018, the Cabinet Office set up a Rapid Response Unit to combat misinformation. It was initially founded on a six-month trial basis, with dedicated funding of £342,825. For some time after the end of the scheduled trial period - and with no recent updates on its work - the government failed to answer questions about the long-term future of the RRU and its funding situation, although the department indicated that it remained in operation.

In February 2019 the government claimed that the unit would continue its work, and its operations continue today.  


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology


Share this page




Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

Government warned over need to protect the metaverse in Online Safety laws
17 March 2023

Campaigners warn that ‘virtual actions are not adequately addressed’ by existing law or pending legislation

DWP to boost digital services and data-sharing to improve benefits system for disabled people
16 March 2023

Range of reforms announced in new policy document published alongside budget

How CDDO is working to make government services great
14 March 2023

In this piece for PublicTechnology, head of strategy and standards Ben Tate provides an update on the digital unit's work to transform the most important citizen services

Government Counter Disinformation Unit ‘does not monitor individuals’, minister pledges
1 March 2023

Paul Scully responds to ongoing questions following revelations that Army brigade was deployed to assess social posts of UK citizens