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Publication of written evidence and evidence session to question social media companies

29 April 2020

Written evidence published by the DCMS Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation reveals the range and ambition behind the online spread of false narratives about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full details of written evidence are published on the DCMS Committee website a day ahead of a hearing by the Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation with senior executives of Twitter, Facebook and Google

Evidence submitted by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change on tackling false information in the pandemic identifies gaps in action taken by social media platforms and a lack of consistency across platforms. On policy solutions, it warns against enforcement action against sharers such as removing access to platforms, fines or prosecution for spreading misinformation on the grounds that it would be unlikely to be effective and could drive greater use of encrypted messages.

The Pirbright Institute, which studies infectious diseases in livestock, alleges in its evidence how a fake website was set up to reinforce conspiracy theories falsely linking its work to the human coronavirus. Failures to act against false information are said by the institute to have caused it significant reputational damage.

An upswing in viewing figures for public service broadcasting networks indicate levels of trust not witnessed by social media. BBC News recorded its highest viewing figures since the 2003 coverage of the Iraq war. Channel 4 reports its documentaries have reached 16% of the population, including over 10% and 15% of young and BAME people respectively in the UK.

Witnesses

Thursday 30 April - Please note there is no access to Parliament

At 9.30am

  • Professor Philip Howard, Director, Oxford Internet Institute
  • Dr Claire Wardle, Strategy Lead, First Draft News
  • Stacie Hoffmann, Digital Policy Consultant, Oxford Information Labs

At 10.30 (approx.)

  • Katy Minshall, UK Head of Government, Public Policy and Philanthropy, Twitter
  • Richard Earley, UK Public Policy Manager, Facebook
  • Alina Dimofte, Public Policy and Government Relations Manager, Google

Purpose of the session

Facebook, Google and Twitter face questions on spread of COVID-19 misinformation

Social media companies face questioning from MPs about their action and its effectiveness in reducing the deliberate spreading of harmful content about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter will be asked about measures they have put in place to tackle a coronavirus ‘infodemic' of false narratives such as conspiracy theories around 5G broadband or claims of fake Twitter accounts posing as those of NHS staff. The wider use of these measures to address online harms beyond the crisis will also be considered. 

The Sub-Committee's inquiry into online harms and disinformation has invited the public to send in examples of online disinformation and misinformation ahead of the hearing.

A panel of experts with a range of backgrounds investigating misinformation, disinformation and cyber security will consider the success of tactics used to identify and counter global sources of disinformation.

Further information