The Daily Telegraph

Fake virus news online ‘led some people to inject bleach’

- By Mike Wright Social Media correspond­ent

CORONAVIRU­S misinforma­tion on social media saw people inject themselves with bleach, a senior MP has claimed as he urged the Government to bring forward the Duty of Care Bill.

Julian Knight, who chairs the Commons Culture Select Committee, warned that if online fake news was not tackled, it could affect take-up of an eventual Covid-19 vaccine, causing “very great harm to society”.

Mr Knight said he wanted to see Ofcom named as the new online regulator and given powers to fine or even prosecute social media companies, as well as the resources to investigat­e the secretive algorithms tech companies use to determine what their users see.

His comments came after the allparty culture committee released a report, saying the UK’S lack of online regulation had allowed misinforma­tion on Covid-19 to spread “virulently”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Knight said: “Healthcare profession­als told us they even saw people injecting themselves with bleach or taking liquids that were harmful.

“They also said that on a more subtle level – but probably even more damaging in terms of numbers – many people were not presenting at hospital because they had seen misinforma­tion and disinforma­tion out there that was effectivel­y saying hospitals were completely overwhelme­d and unsafe places.”

The MPS also heard that misinforma­tion linking 5G mobile signals to the spread of the virus had seen more than 70 recorded threats to telecoms engineers, as well as mobile signal towers being burned.

Mr Knight said social media companies’ attempts to clean up their sites

‘What happens if there are very anti-vaccine messages going out there? That could lead to very great harm’

had been “patchy” and ultimately

“hadn’t worked”.

Ministers said they intend to bring forward legislatio­n by the end of the current parliament­ary session but children’s charities warned that a regulator may not be in place until 2024.

Mr Knight said that without regulation the fake news problem could cause serious real-world harm in the future.

“What is this going to do in the future for when we get a vaccine,” he asked. “What happens if there are very anti-vaccine messages going out there? That could lead to very great harm to society.”

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