A special unit to combat anti-vaccine misinformation online is due to be set up in the UK, ahead of a major rollout of a Covid vaccine, which could begin as soon as next month.
As a number of developers have now announced that their vaccines should be able to be distributed in the next few months, government officials are facing a war against misinformation to reassure UK residents that a vaccine will be totally safe.
Polling from YouGov shows that around one in five people in the UK are currently unlikely to take the vaccine, with two per cent saying they’re opposed to vaccinations in general.
A surge in misinformation
A number of false claims have already circulated in relation to Covid-19, including conspiracies stating a link between 5G towers and the virus.
Some of the false claims that are already being monitored and combatted online by government officials are that vaccinations will be mandatory for children, regardless of parental consent, and that the army will be forcing people to be vaccinated.
There has long been an anti-vaccine movement which has spread misleading and damaging claims about vaccinations generally, but experts have noted a huge surge in this kind of misinformation since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.
The role of social media
Social media companies play a major role in trying to combat misinformation, as it often spreads through sites like Facebook and Twitter, or on private messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Ministers will meet with social media companies on a monthly basis for updates, and they want platforms to ensure that posts which are harmful will be removed as quickly as possible.
The government has also requested that social media companies prevent anyone from profiting from anti-vaccination content, and to step up their monitoring operations, particularly at evenings and over weekends.
NewsGuard is an anti-misinformation firm which has been working with the World Health Organisation to monitor anti-vax content.
Speaking to Politico, NewsGuard’s managing director, Anna-Sophie Harling, said, "Tech platforms are unable to keep up with new and emerging anti-vax narratives, resulting in enforcement decisions that are after-the-fact, inconsistent, and often too late to staunch the problems they are intended to solve.”
“Letting vaccine disinformation spread unchecked could cost British lives and we cannot allow it to derail our fight against COVID-19," Digital Minister Caroline Dinenage also told Politico.
"Through the pandemic we have stood up the counter disinformation unit and worked closely with social media companies to provide a comprehensive picture of the extent, scope and the reach of disinformation, and to quickly identify and respond to potentially harmful content on their platforms."