Misinformation about COVID-19 has been allowed to spread ‘virulently’ across social media, according to a group of MPs.
In a report published today, the digital, culture, media and sports select committee warn that social media companies have failed to tackle the ‘infodemic of misinformation’.
It also notes that some people have mistakenly turned to unproven home remedies, stopped taking prescribed medicine, or ingested harmful chemicals such as disinfectant.
In other cases, some people have avoided hospital altogether, because of something they have read online.
One GP told the committee this type of misinformation has caused particularly acute panic and confusion amongst British Asian communities, some of whom ‘feel adamant that doctors are actively trying to harm them or discharging them without treating them’.
Conspiracy theories have also helped fuel targeted abuse and harassment online, according to the report.
Worryingly, a belief that ‘Asians carry the virus’ has also led to real life attacks as well as online trolling.
UK police statistics have registered a 20% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes with more than 260 offences recorded in the UK since lockdown began.
The Online Harms White Paper, published in April 2019, proposed a duty of care on tech companies and an independent Online Harms Regulator.
‘We are calling on the government to name the regulator now and get on with the ‘world-leading’ legislation on social media that we’ve long been promised,’ said committee chair, Julian Knight.
‘The proliferation of dangerous claims about COVID-19 has been unstoppable.
‘The leaders of social media companies have failed to tackle the infodemic of misinformation. Evidence that tech companies were able to benefit from the monetisation of false information and allowed others to do so is shocking. We need robust regulation to hold these companies to account.
‘The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that without due weight of the law, social media companies have no incentive to consider a duty of care to those who use their services,’ added Mr Knight.
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