Britain to set up unit to tackle 'fake news'

Pedestrians walk along Westminster bridge past the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, central London. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain will set up a new unit to beef up its efforts to counter so-called "fake news" and to try to deter disinformation campaigns by other states, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday (Jan 23).

May has previously accused Russia of meddling in elections and its state media of planting fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to undermine western institutions.

Russia denies interfering in foreign elections including Britain's June 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union and the 2016 US presidential race.

The announcement was made after a meeting of the National Security Council - a mix of ministers and senior security officials - which endorsed the initial findings of a wide-ranging review into Britain's capability to respond to all types of threats.

"We are living in an era of fake news and competing narratives," May's spokesman told reporters. "The government will respond with more and better use of national security communications to tackle these interconnected complex challenges."

He added: "We will build on existing capabilities by creating a dedicated national security communications unit. This will be tasked with combating disinformation by state actors and others. It will more systematically deter our adversaries and help us deliver on national security priorities."

The spokesman had no further information on how the unit would operate, or where it would be based. Asked what sort of state actors the government was worried about, he pointed to previous speeches made by ministers on the subject.

British lawmakers conducting a separate parliament-led inquiry have demanded information from Facebook about any paid-for activity by Russian-linked Facebook accounts around the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 UK election.

The issue of whether and how much Russia intervened in the 2016 US presidential election is a major subject of inquiry in Washington, where it is the subject of multiple investigations.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this month he would overhaul domestic media legislation to fight the spread of fake news on social media, which he said was a threat to liberal democracies.

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