“Inaccurate news stories and online posts could cost lives.”Highlighting the warning from Governments dealing with coronavirus in the UK and abroad – Chair of the CIPR Public Services Committee, Kerry Sheehan.
Tackling misinformation together
The Public Sector Committee is working with other CIPR groups on raising awareness of myths and misinformation circulating on the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The CIPR is served by sectoral groups working across the UK and beyond. Together with regional groups, they are able to share and discuss issues on inaccurate comments, visuals and text. They are working together to help practitioners to signpost content and share official sources. The LPS is leading work on a resource guide for communicators to help them find, evaluate and navigate through the huge amount of information being published on the web and social channels.
Updated daily. Divided into sections and thematic areas to meet practitioners’ requests.
How WHO and Department of Health communicators are signposting and tackling misinformation on social channels, from WhatsApp to TikTok.
Importance of fighting misinformation
The CIPR Public Services Committee is supporting Governments increasing efforts to counter misinformation on coronavirus (COVID-19).
Chair Kerry Sheehan said: “The need for accurate, verifiable information about coronavirus is critical. Whilst the country’s news media (broadcast, print and online) are fulfilling a vital role ensuring citizens receive accurate and timely health advice from the NHS, Public Health and the UK Government, misinformation on social channels needs to be addressed.
“Whilst many of us can probably spot fake news, there are many people who take everything they read online as true. Therefore, it is easier for fake news and hoax theories to spread which could lead to harm to individuals if they believe it.”
She added: “The CIPR Public Services Committee supports the UK Government and all global Governments in pulling together specialist units.” She commended the inclusion of government communicators, technology sector leads and disinformation specialists in academia to lead the fight against fake news. Kerry added: “This will also inform Governments’ responses in assessing the social media trends and risks.”
Kerry called on PR practitioners working in both internal and external communications to use the UK Government’s SHARE checklist. She asked all public sector communicators in both their work roles and private capacity, before sharing or forwarding a coronavirus-related post, to consider where the information was sourced. This approach to evaluating posts, tweets and comments can be shared with families and friends.
“We ask practitioners to highlight the UK Government’s Don’t Feed the Beast SHARE checklist on misinformation or its equivalent in other countries.”
Misinformation on medicinal products related to COVID-19, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) took part in the annual global coordinated operation to tackle the illegal online sale of medicines and medical devices Gov.uk 19/3/2020
Submit your findings
CIPR Public Services Committee also welcomes the UK Parliament Public Inquiry into Online Harms and Disinformation on COVID19.
How the UK Government and social media organisations are tackling deliberate attempts to present false narratives on COVID-19 will be examined by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Sub-Committee on Online Harms and Disinformation. It is currently collecting evidence ready for when the House of Commons returns.
Kerry said: “The deliberate sharing of false information can have serious consequences. It is very hard to take down fake news and information on private channels such as WhatsApp. If you receive any false information, particularly on these private messaging channels, do submit it to the DCMS Public Inquiry which is seeking evidence in real-time.”
Dominic Ridley-Moy, Co-Chair of the CIPR’s Independents Network and member of CIPR’s Public Services Committee added: “It’s vitally important – whether we work in-house or as an independent for a public sector organisation – that we double check coronavirus-related information before we share it.”
He called on all practitioners to consider:
- Do we know where the information has come from?
- Have we checked the source?
- Are we sure it’s true?
- Have we fact checked the information?
“These are all things we do. But it’s hugely important, now more than ever, that we remain extra vigilant and take extra care when sharing information,” added Dominic.
The Parliamentary Inquiry is calling for evidence until Monday 20 April 2020.
UK unit to reduce effect of misinformation
The UK Government now has a ‘counter disinformation unit’, announced in mid March 2020. It aimed to have representation from different departments across Whitehall to identify and respond to disinformation about COVID-19. It is working with social media organisations to try and tackle the spread of disinformation.
Through specialist units across government, staff are working to combat false and misleading narratives about coronavirus to assist the public in having the right information to protect themselves and save lives.
A statement from Gov.uk said: “The Rapid Response Unit, operating from within the Cabinet Office and No10, is tackling a range of harmful narratives online – from purported ‘experts’ issuing dangerous misinformation to criminal fraudsters running phishing scams.”
Responding to the creation of a counter disinformation unit, the CIPR stressed the vital role of communicators.
CIPR President Jenni Field said: “We remind members of their commitment to the CIPR Code of Conduct – you must check the reliability and accuracy of information before sharing with the public.
“The national significance of this issue highlights the importance of the role of communicators.”
Examples of how local public services are addressing fake news and responding to claims
Do you have an example to share here? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message the team on Twitter @CIPRLPS
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust has a fake news submission page on its website. Like many public service organisations, it has been asked to comment on false rumours circulating on social media. It has also used the page to reinforce its communications and support the hard work of staff in its hospitals.
Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust made a response to claims in its local paper about its handling of COVID-19. It also published this as a news story on its own website and social channels (13 March 2020). Similar to many NHS Trust communications teams, it also publishes regular updates on what it is doing to support the public health emergency and protect patients on its website.
NHS and private health communicators have been joining other CIPR members in highlighting the official public health information channels. The LPS Group regularly updates its communicators’ resource guide with good examples from WHO and nation specific public health organisations. This resource is to help communicators find and reuse the copy and graphics in their own networks and to their audiences. The LPS resource includes a section on promoting correct information and working with social media channels.
Thanks to all the communications practitioners who have contributed with ideas and suggestions to our resources and articles. Also to Abha Thakor for putting this post together, Kerry Sheehan and Dominic Ridley-Moy. If you have examples or templates which could assist other communicators, please let us know.