Portsmouth MP Penny Mordaunt joins taskforce tackling spread of coronavirus fake news

CITY MP Penny Mordaunt is leading an anti-fake news taskforce set up by Downing Street to tackle the ‘deadly’ spread of misinformation around coronavirus.

Monday, 30th March 2020, 10:48 am
Updated Monday, 30th March 2020, 6:58 pm

The government’s ‘Rapid Response Unit’, operating from within the Cabinet Office and Number 10, is tackling up to 10 misleading claims a day about Covid-19.

Oliver Dowden, the culture and digital secretary, said the new unit was looking at removing ‘falsehoods and rumours’ about the illness that could cost lives and was trying to clamp down on phishing scams.

It comes as it emerged some viral hoax articles were getting more views than all of those posted by the NHS put together.

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A woman wears a mask in Southsea while looking at her phone. Picture: Habibur Rahman

One article on the website WND.com claimed a US doctor had cured hundreds of patients of Covid-19, despite the fact the information in the piece went against official guidance, and received more than 160,000 Facebook engagements by UK users in 24 hours.

This was more than all of the NHS websites engagements received from Facebook and Twitter during the past 30 days, research by NewsGuard claimed.

Portsmouth North MP Ms Mordaunt, who is now the government’s paymaster general, is urging the public to play their part in stopping fake news from spreading.

She said: ‘Holding your breath for ten seconds is not a test for coronavirus and gargling water for 15 seconds is not a cure – this is the kind of false advice we have seen coming from sources claiming to be “medical experts”.

Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP and the government's paymaster general. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘That is why government communicators are working in tandem with health bodies to promote official medical advice, rebut false narratives and clamp down on criminals seeking to exploit public concern during this pandemic.

‘But the public can also help with this effort, so today we implore them to take some simple steps before sharing information online, such as always reading beyond the headline and scrutinising the source.’

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The government is this week relaunching the ‘Don’t Feed the Beast’ public information campaign, urging people to question what they read online.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘We need people to follow expert medical advice and stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. It is vital that this message hits home and that misinformation and disinformation which undermines it is knocked down quickly.

‘We’re working with social media companies, and I’ll be pressing them this week for further action to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumours which could cost lives.’

The public is now being urged to always scrutinise article sources to make sure they’re from reputable news organisations and read beyond the headline.