Online filtering service backed in fight against Covid-19 ‘fake news’

By Emma Bowden, PA

The Government has endorsed an online tool which helps filter out “fake news” in efforts to tackle coronavirus-related misinformation.

An app by NewsGuard helps users identify trustworthy websites while browsing the internet, and flags any that are hosting “dangerous information” in relation to the pandemic.

The service says it has identified more than 140 websites publishing fake news on the Covid-19 pandemic, with some getting more engagement over a 24-hour period than some NHS websites have received in a month.

NewsGuard said libraries across the UK were using its services to help members navigate information sources before the outbreak.

But now libraries have closed in response to lockdown measures announced by the Government, the company has removed all of its paywalls to make services free nationwide.

It works on browsers and mobile devices by showing either red or green rating icons next to news links on search engines and social media feeds, including Google, Bing, Facebook, Reddit and Twitter.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We need people to follow the advice of our medical experts so we can protect the NHS and save lives.

“But false or misleading information about coronavirus shared online could undermine our efforts.

“This very welcome move by NewsGuard will give people a free and effective tool helping them access trustworthy news sources during these challenging times.”

Mr Dowden has previously called on social media users to do their bit in tackling coronavirus-related “fake news”, recommending people adopt advice issued by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).

CCDH, a non-profit group researching online hate in the battle against those peddling falsehoods, said conspiracy theories being shared online include claims Covid-19 is a biological weapon released by China.

Others pin the blame for the deadly virus’ inception on 5G technology masts, according to their findings.

Anna-Sophie Harling, managing director of Europe at NewsGuard, said: “Now, more than ever, it is critical that users learn to distinguish between credible, official sources of information and purveyors of false, often dangerous misinformation.

“We’re proud to be able to play a part in the UK’s efforts to slow the pace of the Covid-19 outbreak and help the public to confidently navigate the never-ending landscape of online health information.”

NewsGuard said no user data is collected from those who use the tools, only the number of times the browser extension is downloaded, and in which country.