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Covid-19: Disinformation

Defence – in the House of Commons on 12th May 2020.

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Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling the spread of disinformation on covid-19.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

Defence is supporting the Government’s campaign against covid-19 disinformation, specifically to counter disinformation, misinformation and malign information from abroad. The Government are also working closely with social media platforms, academia and civil society to tackle this issue, although I stress that this is not a role undertaken by our military personnel. The Government’s particular focus remains on promoting factual public health advice and countering inaccurate content.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

In many cases, disinformation about covid-19 can travel faster than the virus itself and pose just as great a threat to our security. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and with the majority of the public surveyed by the Open Knowledge Foundation that the Government need urgently to impose compulsory action on social media sites to clamp down on the spread of such disinformation?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Member will know that, not just in this world of the coronavirus battle but previously, in the world of exploitation, misinformation, radicalisation and other areas, the biggest challenge for Governments across Europe has been how to deal with social media companies, many of which are based abroad. The extent of our powers and jurisdiction is sometimes limited. We have consulted widely about duties of care, but in this outbreak we are seeing media outlets way away from this part of the world that have no regard for the fact or truth magnifying or spreading propaganda in real time. That is the challenge we have. No amount of legislation will be able to deal with some foreign outlets that are based elsewhere or linked to Governments elsewhere, and that is a challenge. To be fair, the mainstream social media outlets, which are often United States-based, have been more responsible in this; Facebook, Twitter and so on have stood up to the plate and removed lots of content when it has been pointed out to them.