Press note: #DontSpreadTheVirus

Posted on March 27, 2020 in Press releases.

New government-backed advice has been published by the Center for Countering Digital (CCDH), a not-for-profit organisation, on what members of the public should do if they encounter misinformation about Covid-19 online.

The ‘Don’t Spread The Virus’ campaign advises social media users not to share or comment on falsehoods they find online, as this simply rebroadcasts misinformation to their own networks and directs social media algorithms to show the misleading content to more users. Users are being advised:

  • Don’t reply to or share misinformation on social media;
  • Block anyone they don’t know sharing misinformation;
  • Message privately anyone they know who is sharing misinformation and ask them not to do so;
  • Report misinformation to social media platforms and group admins;

People are also being asked to share the official medical advice produced by the NHS and UK Government, as well as posts promoting good causes.

The recommendations draw on research published by the CCDH in its ‘Don’t Feed The Trolls’ report, which found that engaging with abusive and hateful content on social media amplifies it, rewarding those posting the abuse. The report was endorsed by celebrities and politicians who have suffered online abuse themselves, including Gary Lineker, Rachel Riley, Sadiq Khan, and Aisling Bea.

The findings in the report show that social media algorithms are exploited by bad faith actors to gain followers and engagements. Content that receives lots of shares or comments, even if for negative reasons, are prioritised in social media users’ timelines and receive more views. While posts which are seen as untrue or hateful are often commented on, official guidance often receives less engagement.

The recommendations were reviewed by civil servants and have received the backing of the UK Government, with the Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden, saying:
“We must remain absolutely vigilant to inaccurate stories about coronavirus being spread online. The government is monitoring the extent and impact of misinformation and will not hesitate to intervene to help the public follow accurate information and guidance.

“I urge the industry to play their part too and act fast to stem the spread of misinformation on coronavirus on their platforms. But we can also all take action now by following these guidelines from the CCDH to tackle fake news in our everyday online lives.”

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said:

“Social media is currently awash with conspiracy theories, fake news, and incorrect medical advice about coronavirus and Covid-19. Some of it is produced by extremists seeking to undermine faith in government and experts, some by grifters seeking to sell false cures and some are just sadly misinformed and think they’re doing the right thing by spreading the wrong advice.

“When people see something they recognise as misinformation it’s natural for them to want to call it out, but on social media this instinct only helps to spread that misinformation further.

“The nation has shown great resolve and made sacrifices to stop the spread of coronavirus. We need to show similar resolve to stop inadvertently amplifying misinformation, which threatens to undermine all our efforts, and instead amplify official advice from the NHS or UK Government.”