Labour urges action to tackle coronavirus fake news on social media

Sienna Rodgers

Labour has urged global tech companies and the UK government to take action to tackle disinformation that is spreading on social media platforms during the coronavirus crisis.

Jo Stevens, Labour’s culture and media spokesperson, said: “Combatting the impact of the global Covid-19 crisis is difficult enough, without the uncontrolled spread of extremely harmful content on social media platforms.”

New research by non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and youth-led development agency Restless Development has found that 90% of posts containing misinformation are not acted upon after being reported.

Their study involved reporting 649 posts that they deemed to have contravened the platforms’ terms of service or publicly-claimed criteria for removing coronavirus-related misinformation.

Of the 9.4% of reported posts that saw action taken, 6.3% were removed from the platform, 2% belonged to accounts that were removed from the platform, and 1.1% were labelled as false but not removed.

Analysis determined that while Facebook removed 10.2% of the posts reported, Instagram removed just 4.4% of reported posts and Twitter only removed one tweet among the total of 179 reported.

“This was despite Twitter claiming to have adopted policies regarding coronavirus misinformation that appear to be stricter than either Facebook or Instagram,” reads the report.

It says the misinformation that remains available on the platforms includes false claims that viruses cannot be transmitted by air, Covid-19 is caused by vaccines, the virus is a hoax and wearing a face mask causes cancer.

Commenting on the findings, Stevens said: “This report exposes yet again the reality of what the global tech companies promise on removing harmful content and the pitiful steps they actually take in practice.”

CCDH chief executive Imran Ahmed concluded: “Social media companies have profited lavishly from this crisis and yet, when the time came for them to do their bit, they issued PR-driven claims yet failed to act.

“Whether hubris, greed or indifference motivated them is something we cannot know; but we are judged as people on our deeds, not our words. As the stark results of this report show, their deeds have just not been good enough.”

Labour also drew attention to the lack of action by the UK government, highlighting that the online harms white paper has not led to action amid reports that US tech executives have met with British officials to lobby against the proposals.

Stevens added: “More than a year after publication of their online harms white paper, the government has still not taken any action to put proper protection from online harms in place for the UK public, including for children.

“All we’ve had are delays, opportunities for the tech giants to continue their intensive lobbying, and recent noises from the Secretary of State about watering down the proposed sanctions in the white paper. It’s not good enough.”

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