Education Secretary warns of ‘fake news’ ahead of meeting about vaccinations

Education Secretary Damian Hinds Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Cabinet ministers are meeting social media companies to discuss how to curb the spread of misleading content on vaccinations.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said the reputations of institutions and companies can “quickly be eroded by the spread of so-called ‘fake news’” as he highlighted the importance of young people becoming “new-media-savvy”.

Mr Hinds will attend a social media and online harms summit later alongside Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the Department for Education said.

Mr Hinds said that while the internet puts a vast amount of information at our fingertips, it also makes it “much easier to spread falsehoods – inadvertently or by design”.

He added: “Today we will be addressing with social media companies how to curb the spread of misleading content on vaccinations.

“But this issue goes much further than that, and without firm action it is set to get a lot worse.

“The reputations of institutions and companies, and liberal democracy itself, can quickly be eroded by the spread of so-called ‘fake news’.

“Since ancient times, propagandists have sought to manipulate the truth. But in the internet age these techniques are available not just to states but to campaign groups and individuals.

“And social media’s network effects, and the power of ‘Likes’, mean their spread can be self-propelling.

“What starts as disinformation – deliberate falsification – gets replicated through misinformation – stating or passing on something that you believe to be true but isn’t.‎

“Trusted sources become more important than ever. For health information, clearly that means the NHS. For news, young people will have to work out their own preferred sources, but the important thing is to be discerning.

“We need the tech companies to make that easier – but we also need to ensure that young people are new-media-savvy.

“That’s why we are introducing new content to schools that is a fusion of the Relationships, Citizenship and Computing curricula.

“Children won’t just learn about what a spoofer or a sock-puppet are, or how clickbait headlines try to lure you in.

“They’ll learn about how so-called confirmation bias helps stories spread, and discuss why someone might want to bend the truth in the first place.”

From 2020, the Government is making health education – which includes content on physical and mental wellbeing – universally compulsory, alongside introducing compulsory relationships education for primary age pupils and relationships and sex education for secondary age pupils.

This will mean every child will learn about internet safety and harms alongside the importance of mental wellbeing, the DfE said.

The social media and mental health summit is a strategic partnership between Government and stakeholders who meet regularly on a range of issues that stem from internet usage.

The DfE said Mr Hinds will say, through the introduction of health education, primary and secondary pupils will be taught the facts and science relating to allergies, immunisation and vaccination.