Tackling COVID-19 online disinformation – Julian Hayes and Greta Barkle write for Open Access Government

Tackling COVID-19 online disinformation – Julian Hayes and Greta Barkle write for Open Access Government

BCL partner Julian Hayes and Associate Greta Barkle’s article titled ‘Infodemic – Tackling COVID-19 online disinformation’ has been published by Open Access Government.

Here’s an extract from the article:

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, Twitter announced that, while it could not ‘police’ every tweet, it would delete those which risked harm by spreading dangerous disinformation about the virus including those contradicting health authority guidance about the effectiveness of social distancing, promoting false and in some instances dangerous ‘cures’, and claims that some nationalities were more susceptible than others. Then, on 17 March, the world’s largest social media companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter put out a joint statement promising to fight COVID-19 fraud and fight disinformation. Details of how they intend to go about this were not published but it is understood they will co-ordinate with US Government healthcare agencies. In April, to impede the dissemination of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, it was reported that Facebook-owned WhatsApp was restricting the frequency with which messages could be forwarded by users.

In a domestic bid to tackle disinformation about the virus, the UK’s Cabinet Office has formed a Rapid Response Unit (‘RRU’) to examine ways of countering harmful online narratives, of which it estimates there may be as many as seventy per week. It is not the first time the Government has used such measures; in 2018, the Government announced a dedicated national security communications unit to combat disinformation from hostile states, and between 1948 until 1977, the Foreign Office operated an Information Research Department to counter the effect of Soviet propaganda aimed at the West. The work of the Cabinet Office’s new RRU includes direct rebuttals of disinformation on social media and working with platform providers to remove harmful online content. Other Government measures include funding overseas humanitarian networks challenging disinformation about the pandemic in South-East Asia and Africa which is then disseminated worldwide, and by reprising its online awareness campaign, ‘Don’t Feed the Beast’ encouraging people to be wary of inadvertently promoting disinformation by ‘liking’, commenting and sharing harmful online content.

This article was published by Open Access Government on 22/04/2020. You can read the full version on their website.

Julian Hayes is a Partner specialising in all aspects of corporate crime and regulatory work. As well as dealing with high profile fraud and corruption matters, including investigations with an international dimension, he has considerable experience of advising corporates on data protection and cybercrime issues.

Greta Barkle is a New Zealand qualified lawyer specialising in business crime, regulatory investigations, extradition and cybercrime. Prior to joining BCL Solicitors LLP, Greta worked on a range of complex disputes, including claims against the New Zealand Police and Government Communications Security Bureau in relation to dawn raids and unlawful surveillance of communications. Greta also assisted counsel in New Zealand’s leading white collar crime and extradition case and is an experienced criminal and regulatory prosecutor.