A group of publishers and tech giants will co-ordinate efforts to remove potentially dangerous Covid-19 vaccine disinformation as the UK and Canada start to roll out their first doses.
BBC director-general Tim Davie, who chaired a recent summit of the Trusted News Initiative on the subject, said false claims about the vaccines can have a “human cost”.
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Press Gazette launched a campaign to Fight the Infodemic in June as Covid-19 conspiracy theories spread across social media.
Members of the initiative will focus efforts on combating the spread of vaccine disinformation and misinformation, after a year of tackling other problematic Covid-19 claims as well as running rapid alert systems on elections in the US, Taiwan and Myanmar.
They will inform each other of anything that “poses an immediate threat to life” so that the platforms can take prompt action against it and publishers can avoid repeating dangerous falsehoods.
Davie said: “2020 has been a year like no other. We have seen the rapid spread of harmful disinformation and a growing number of conspiracy theories online. Whether it’s a threat to our health or a threat to our democracy, there is a human cost to disinformation.
“The Trusted News Initiative partners will continue to work together to expand our framework and ensure legitimate concerns about future vaccinations are heard whilst harmful disinformation myths are stopped in their tracks.”
The BBC is joined in the global initiative, which launched last year, by publishers AP, AFP, CBC/Radio-Canada, the Financial Times, The Hindu, Reuters and The Washington Post.
They are supported by the European Broadcasting Union, anti-misinformation organisation First Draft and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Tech companies Facebook, Google (including its subsidiary Youtube), Microsoft and Twitter are also signed up.
Facebook said last week it would start to remove Covid-19 vaccine misinformation, including claims the vaccines contain microchips or anything not on their ingredients lists, but warned it will “not be able to start enforcing these policies overnight”.
Examples given of the type of posts that will be tackled by the initiative include any linking the development of a vaccine with an ulterior motive, and those downplaying the risks of coronavirus.
Noel Curran, director of the EBU, said: “Public service media have a real role to play in interrogating the science behind vaccines, responsibly examining safety concerns, but also countering dangerous disinformation that threatens to undermine the decisions that people make about their health.”
The BBC World Service Group is simultaneously funding a year-long research project to be carried out by the Reuters Institute and First Draft to find out how effective different methods of tackling misinformation actually are.
World Service director Jamie Angus told the World Press Freedom Conference on Thursday the research would “provide a deeper understanding of the interventions that fight misinformation”.
Areas of focus for the programme, which will carry out studies in the UK, India and Brazil, will include the effectiveness of labelling and correcting news content by fact-checkers and how coverage of misinformation in the so-called mainstream media affects the spread of misinformation.
Research published by King’s College London and Ipsos Mori on Friday found that more than four in ten of Britons feel that anti-vaxxers who discourage others from getting a coronavirus vaccine are “stupid” and a third said they are “selfish”.