DCMS unit to lead government’s anti-disinformation work

Written by Sam Trendall on 12 March 2020 in News
News

Cross-government team will support response to coronavirus falsehoods

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A cross-government unit in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will lead Whitehall’s response to disinformation. 

The unit, which is understood to have been used periodically in the past and has now been “reactivated” in light of coronavirus outbreak, will bring together experts from existing monitoring and analysis teams that are currently housed in other departments. 

The DCMS-based unit will be tasked with working on behalf of government as a whole to counter the spread of disinformation – which is defined as the deliberate and malicious dissemination of false information for political or financial motivations – and the damage caused by it.

It will also have a remit to respond to misinformation, which is the inadvertent sharing of falsities.


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The team’s foremost priority will be compiling a comprehensive picture of the scale and nature of both disinformation and misinformation related to Covid-19, and the impact these untruths are having.

DCMS secretary of state Oliver Dowden said: “Defending the country from misinformation and digital interference is a top priority. As part of our ongoing work to tackle these threats we have brought together expert teams to make sure we can respond effectively should these threats be identified in relation to the spread of Covid-19. This work includes regular engagement with the social media companies, which are well placed to monitor interference and limit the spread of disinformation, and will make sure we are on the front foot to act if required."

The DCMS team is not the only Whitehall unit dedicated to combatting fake news, with the Cabinet Office’s Rapid Response Unit, which was established in 2018, also tasked with coordinating a government response to both disinformation and misinformation.

Despite making enquiries, PublicTechnology was unable to establish any clear difference in remit between the two entities, nor why the coronavirus response was being helmed by the reactivated DCMS team when there already exists an anti-disinformation unit in the centre of government.

The main point of divergence between the two units seems to be that the DCMS team unites existing departmental functions, rather than the especially created RRU in the Cabinet Office.

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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