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The British government has launched a new rapid response unit to coordinate the fight against online misinformation about COVID-19.

Reports suggest that the unit, operating from within the Cabinet Office and Number 10, will help to deal with “false and misleading narratives about coronavirus.” These will include everything from phishing scams to fake ‘experts’ issuing false medical advice.

Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has claimed that fake news could cost lives.

“We need people to follow expert medical advice and stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives,” he’s quoted by the BBC as saying. “It is vital that this message hits home and that misinformation and disinformation which undermines it is knocked down quickly.”

As part of these efforts, the government is relaunching a campaign on misinformation called “Don’t Feed the Beast.”

Most social media companies have said they will work with governments to try and halt the spread of rumors online.

Earlier this month, Twitter said it was broadening its definition of online harm to include content that contradicts guidance from public health and other trusted bodies. However, it also admitted that increasing its reliance on automated systems may result in more mistakes as they lack the context that human moderators can bring.

Also earlier in March, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said it was removing malicious and phishing websites linked to the pandemic, as businesses and consumers continue to be exposed to credential theft, identity fraud, ransomware and more.

The National Crime Agency also last week released information for individuals and businesses on how to stay safe from fraud and other scams.

It’s claimed the new government rapid response unit is dealing with around 70 incidents of misinformation each week.

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