Social Media: Disinformation

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology written question – answered at on 13 February 2024.

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Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, what steps her Department is taking to help tackle digital astroturfing on social media.

Photo of Saqib Bhatti Saqib Bhatti Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

The Government recognises the range of tactics which could be employed to spread mis- and disinformation and the threat that these can pose. DSIT’s National Security Online Information Team (NSOIT) analyses coordinated attempts to artificially manipulate the online information environment, working with a range of partners, including social media platforms, civil society groups, academia, and international partners, to tackle it.

Digital astroturfing, amongst other techniques sometimes used by state actors to interfere with UK society, will be captured by the Foreign Interference Offence. This has been added as a priority offence in the Online Safety Act and will capture a wide range of state-sponsored disinformation and state-backed operations. Companies will have a legal duty to take proactive action to prevent users from encountering material that amounts to an offence of Foreign Interference, which could include content linked to digital astroturfing, and minimise how long any such content is present on their services.

Under the Act, Ofcom’s Disinformation Advisory Committee is empowered to conduct research and build understanding on mis- and disinformation related issues, which may include the threats posed by digital astroturfing. In addition, Ofcom’s updated statutory duty to promote media literacy includes specific duties to raise the public’s awareness of how to keep themselves and others safe online, including by understanding the nature and impact of mis- and disinformation. This could include initiatives related to specific malicious tactics.

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