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MPs call for review of Government disinformation unit

MPs from both main parties have criticised the Counter Disinformation Unit's scope and secrecy. Credit: Getty

April 15, 2024 - 3:15pm

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has called for an independent review of the Government’s Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU). In a new report the Committee, which is cross-party and serves to scrutinise the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), states that its members are “concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability of the CDU and the appropriateness of its reach”.

The document goes on to recommend that “the Government commission and lay before Parliament an independent review of the activities and strategy” of the Unit within the next 12 months.

Set up within DCMS in 2019, the CDU was active throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in challenging alleged “false and misleading narratives” around lockdowns and vaccine mandates. As of February this year, the Unit has been relocated to the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Last year it was reported that the CDU collaborated with social media platforms to censor online criticism of Government lockdown policies, removing posts and hiding users’ accounts. Prominent critics had their activities monitored by the Unit, which in some cases recommended that they be sanctioned by tech companies such as Meta and Google.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee report quotes the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, which describes the CDU as “one of the most opaque units in government outside of the security services”. It claims that this surveillance extended to former Government ministers including Conservative MP David Davis, who recommended last year that the Unit be shut down after it recorded tweets of his which questioned early lockdown modelling.

Conservative MP and former junior minister Paul Scully claimed last year that the anti-disinformation team does not monitor the activities of individual citizens and instead looks at “narratives, trends and attempts to artificially manipulate the information environment online”. He conceded at the time that “the content reviewed may incidentally include personal data”, but told a Committee hearing that the CDU was “not some big, shady intelligence unit”.

The Government official in charge of the Unit during pandemic, Sarah Connolly, later said that one of its main purposes was “passing information over” to the likes of Facebook and Twitter to encourage “the swift takedown” of posts. She remains the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology’s Director for Security and Online Harms.

Passing without reference in the Committee’s report is the Government’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU), which was disbanded in August 2022. The RRU monitored social media activity during the pandemic and reportedly flagged content for censorship by tech platforms. This accusation is in spite of a Cabinet Office publication which claims the RRU had no contact with social media companies.

Speaking to UnHerd, Big Brother Watch’s director Silkie Carlo called the Committee report “a very welcome and long overdue intervention on the highly secretive activities of the UK Government’s Counter Disinformation Unit”. She added that “the Unit should be immediately suspended and subjected to a full investigation.” The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been contacted for comment.


is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.

RobLownie

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Robert Leigh
Robert Leigh
1 month ago

Any body or individual who is believes what they’re saying is the truth should not fear open debate.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

Something we can all agree – the tools of censorship must be taken down.

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago

They should review the 77th Brigade whilst they’re at it, although the results of any analysis of either will be considered far too sensitive for release to trouble our pretty little heads.

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 month ago

There are any number of these suspect bodies sucking off the public teat:

The Behavioural Insights Team, aka the Nudge Unit

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioural_Insights_Team

The 77th Brigade

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/77th_Brigade_(United_Kingdom)

The Research, Information and Communications Unit

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/mind-control-secret-british-government-blueprints-shaping-post-terror-planning

If anything “spontaneous” is going to happen, make sure that it is as “spontaneous” as a performance by the Bolshoi Ballet. But this is very old hat. George Orwell’s “1984” had government agents who organised spontaneous demonstrations, e. g. thanking the Government for raising the meat ration to 20 grams a week.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
21 days ago
Reply to  William Murphy

Thank you for these links William.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
1 month ago

Good that Unherd is giving this some column inches. There certainly won’t be a peep on the subject in the MSM.