- The UK has set up a special unit to fight disinformation about the novel coronavirus after the US accused Russia of spreading a series of conspiracy theories.
- The US has accused Russia of disseminating misinformation about the virus, including a now widespread theory that the COVID-19 virus was created by the CIA as a biological weapon.
- “Defending the country from misinformation and digital interference is a top priority,” UK digital minister Oliver Dowden said.
- Follow the latest news in the UK as coronavirus continues to spread.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The UK government has created a special unit designed to combat Russian disinformation about the novel coronavirus after the US accused Moscow of spreading a series of conspiracy theories seeking to blame the West for the virus.
White House officials have accused Russia of creating thousands of fake Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts to spread conspiracy theories that the US was somehow the originator of the virus.
Posts included claims that the virus was a bid by the US to “wage economic war on China,” that it was a bioweapon engineered by the CIA, and that it was fostered “to push anti-China messages.”
The campaign was first spotted in mid-January, with several thousand accounts — many of which were previously tied to Russian activities — posting “near-identical” messages about coronavirus, according to a report produced by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.
The UK government on Monday announced that it had assembled a counter-disinformation unit that would work with social-media companies to “identify and respond” to these and other conspiracy theories spread by foreign powers.
“Defending the country from misinformation and digital interference is a top priority,” said Oliver Dowden, the UK secretary of state for digital, culture, media, and sport.
“As part of our ongoing work to tackle these threats we have brought together expert teams to make sure we can respond effectively should these threats be identified in relation to the spread of COVID-19.
“This work includes regular engagement with the social-media companies, which are well placed to monitor interference and limit the spread of disinformation, and will make sure we are on the front foot to act if required.”
Boris Johnson moves to delay British coronavirus epidemic
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday was expected to chair a COBRA meeting as his government decides how to respond to a significant rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK.
There were 273 confirmed cases in Britain as of Sunday afternoon, with three deaths linked to virus. The latest person to die after testing positive was a man in his 60s with “significant” preexisting health conditions.
“The number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in the UK and around the world,” Johnson was set to tell the meeting of senior government ministers and health officials.
“We are well prepared and will continue to make decisions to protect the public based on the latest scientific advice.
“Tackling coronavirus will require a national and international effort. I am confident the British people are ready to play their part in that.
“The most valuable thing people can do is wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.”
The UK government is set to officially move the UK toward the “delay” phase of its four-point action plan for tackling the coronavirus, with the number of cases expected to grow significantly this week.
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The delay phase will most likely involve advice to limit human contact and unnecessary travel, with the public advised to work from home when possible.
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