UK government cracks down on coronavirus misinformation

A specialist unit has been put in place in the Cabinet Office to prevent the spread of false news surrounding coronavirus.

Fake advice is circulating on social media and WhatsApp, from how to treat symptoms to scam messages purporting to be from HMRC offering tax refunds because of coronavirus disruption. Downing Street says they are identifying between five and 10 new incidents every day.

According to culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, measures have now been put in place “to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumours, which could cost lives”.

The rapid response unit is cooperating with social media firms to remove content which is deemed harmful, as well as fake news pertaining to Covid-19, and fines are being issued for those who are found to break the rules.

A Government campaign called “Don’t Feed the Beast” has also been relaunched by the government in an attempt to encourage people to consider what they share online.

Damian Collins, a conservative MP and former chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, says: “The information contagion around Covid-19 is so dangerous, because there is so much that people don’t know and so much happening all the time, that it is very easy for false rumours to take hold and spread.”

He has partnered with Infotagion, a free-to-access website, which allows members of the public to post screenshots of coronavirus-related information they have received online.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NSCS) has also issued a public alert and fresh guidance as more cyber criminals seek to exploit Coronavirus.

‘Phishing’ attempts such as bogus emails with links claiming to have important updates, which once clicked on lead to devices being infected, are leading to loss of money and sensitive data.

Individuals and businesses in the UK have also been targeted by Coronavirus-themed phishing emails with infected attachments containing fictitious ‘safety measures.’ According to Proofpoint researchers, such attacks have recently become more targeted, with greater numbers focusing on specific sectors like shipping, transport or retail to increase the likelihood of success.

The NCSC is therefore urging businesses and the public to consult its online guidance, including how to spot and deal with suspicious emails as well as mitigate and defend against malware and ransomware.

If you have received a notice from HMRC which appears to be suspicious, or you have any concerns relating to the above mentioned matter, contact your usual Beavis Morgan Partner who will gladly assist.