The NHS has unveiled a package of measures in the battle against coronavirus fake news – working with Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – to help the public get easy access to accurate NHS information and avoid myths and misinformation.
The measures include Google providing easy access to verified NHS guidance when someone searches for coronavirus. As well as helping to promote good advice, the NHS has been fighting bad advice and misinformation about the virus in the media and online, working with Twitter to suspend a false account posing as a hospital and putting out inaccurate information about the number of coronavirus cases; and publicly condemning homeopaths promoting false treatments.
The NHS is also working with Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to verify or ‘blue tick’ over 800 accounts belonging to NHS organisations including hospital trusts and local commissioning groups. Following months of work, the NHS and Google will this week introduce new Knowledge Panels – prominent pop out boxes of information – as part of Google search on mobile, to ensure it provides the public in the UK with easy access to NHS information about more than 250 health conditions, including coronavirus. Both Twitter and Facebook are directing users to the NHS website if they search for coronavirus.
The announcement comes alongside the government’s action to crack down on fake news, including a cross-government team to engage with social media firms to monitor the internet for scams. Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive said: “Ensuring the public has easy access to accurate NHS advice however they search for it, not only will support people to take the right action but will also help the country’s response to coronavirus. “The NHS has already been battling coronavirus fake news, from working to take down false Twitter accounts to speaking out against misleading treatments being promoted by homeopaths online. “It’s right that social media platforms and search engines take any action so they can help ensure the public are directed to NHS advice first. “I would also like to personally thank all those NHS staff who are doing an incredible job caring for patients, testing thousands of worried people and taking calls from thousands more.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Today’s actions are another important step so members of the public can access reliable, accurate health information, which is more crucial than ever as we continue our response to coronavirus. “These changes will ensure the latest trusted NHS guidance sits at the very top of Google search lists, so people can be reassured they are reading official, up-to-date Government advice. “Public safety is our top priority and we are harnessing digital tools to reach millions of people on more than 250 conditions they are searching for – including coronavirus – helping tackle misinformation and ensuring the public is well informed to take control of their health.”
Last week the Advertising Standards Authority also took action to ban two face mask adverts which were “likely to cause fear” and made “misleading” claims about their ability to stop the spread of coronavirus. Whilst the NHS website contains the most accurate information for the public about coronavirus, for people worried they might have the virus the health service has started directing them to the NHS 111 online service to help support the national phoneline after calls surged. The NHS 111 online service has dealt with more than a million enquiries relating to coronavirus since it was updated for coronavirus last month. Tara Donnelly, chief digital officer at NHSX, said: “One of NHSX’s key missions is to ensure that the public are provided with accurate health information so they can be confident they are following official NHS advice. “By making NHS website content free to use for third party organisations, we are ensuring that more people get NHS advice when they search online rather than from one of the many other sources; some with guidance that isn’t right for the UK, and some that just aren’t right.”
Professor Jonathan Benger, Chief Medical Officer at NHS Digital, which runs the NHS website says: “Getting the right health information to the public is essential, particularly during outbreaks of disease. Syndication from the NHS website means that people can be confident that the information they see meets the highest clinical standards. The more we can share accurate information, the less likelihood there is of inaccuracy and rumour, which could put people at risk.”