Born as twins in the womb, the coronavirus and misinformation surrounding the virus have grown together and found their way into the country’s homes.

Indeed, with each new confirmed case of the virus comes a surge in misleading and potentially harmful narratives on the causes of, and potential cures for, this deadly virus (a damning indictment of the culture of today, but we’ll leave that for another blogpost).

In an effort to tackle this spread of false and misleading information, the UK government announced on Monday 30 March that they had set up a Rapid Response Unit, operating from within the Cabinet Office and No10. Described as a “government crackdown”, the RRU in fact functions less as an enforcer and more as an intermediary, identifying false information and coordinating with departments across Whitehall to deploy appropriate responses.

In real terms, what this means is that where false information is identified, such as “holding your breath for ten seconds is a test for coronavirus” and “gargling water for 15 seconds is a cure” (false advice seen by the government coming from sources claiming to be medical experts), the RRU have co-ordinated direct rebuttals on social media, worked with platforms to remove the harmful content and ensured public health campaigns are promoted through reliable sources.

The RRU are currently dealing with up to 70 incidents a week of identifying and resolving false narratives. But they cannot combat misinformation alone, and they have issued a plea to the public to do our part to help stop the spread of potentially dangerous or false stories circulating online by first considering what they call the “SHARE” checklist, which is:

  • SOURCE – Does the information come from a trusted source?
  • HEADLINE – Does it match the content of the article?
  • ANALYSE – Check the facts – do they seem right?
  • RETOUCHED? – Does the image or video look as though it has been doctored?
  • ERROR – Look out for bad grammar and spelling

Adopting these five simple steps will, they hope, go some way to stemming the flow of misinformation about the coronavirus online.

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