Fact checkers and leading health organisations urge Government to take health misinformation seriously in Online Safety Bill

10 May 2023 | Team Full Fact

Leading health organisations, experts and charities, including Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization, the Royal Society for Public Health, the Royal College of GPs, British Heart Foundation and MS Society, have joined Full Fact to sign an open letter to the Secretary of State, urging her to support an upcoming amendment to the Online Safety Bill to make tackling health misinformation a priority.

The letter to Chloe Smith MP, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, sent by Full Fact today, warns that the Online Safety Bill does not offer sufficient protection to prevent a surge of harmful misinformation during the next health crisis. It highlights how health misinformation causes harm, impacting parents’ decisions about whether or not to vaccinate their children, stopping people from taking their medication and leading to the stigmatisation of marginalised communities. 

The signatories agree that “One key way that we can protect the future of our healthcare system is to ensure that internet companies have clear policies on how they identify the harmful health misinformation that appears on their platforms, as well as consistent approaches in dealing with it. This will give users increased protections from harm, and improve the information environment and trust in the public institutions.”

The letter has been sent ahead of the tabling of an amendment by former health minister Lord Bethell, which proposes a new duty on category 1 internet companies. It is due for debate in the House of Lords on Thursday (11 May). 

Full Fact worked to fight health misinformation circulating during the pandemic. Today’s letter comes following the the recent release of a new report, Online health misinformation in the UK: why it spreads, the impact it has, and how to reduce harm through the Online Safety Bill.

Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact, said, “Without this amendment, the Online Safety Bill will be useless in the face of harmful health misinformation.” 

“People have already died as a result of dangerous health misinformation they have seen online. Fact checkers and leading health experts are writing to the government today because we have seen first hand the need for robust regulation that forces internet companies to take their role in protecting their users from health misinformation seriously.”

Full Fact’s report explores the health misinformation landscape, looking at the damaging health misinformation surrounding vital health concerns beyond Covid-19, such as cancer treatments, vaccinations, fertility and pregnancy, heart disease medication, mental health conditions and sexually transmitted diseases. 

The complete list of letter signatories is as follows:

  • Full Fact
  • Sir Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization
  • Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine, Cambridge University
  • Sir Clive Dix, former Chair of the Vaccines Taskforce
  • Lord (Ara) Darzi, Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at Imperial College London
  • Dr Raj Mathur, Chair of British Fertility Society
  • Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists
  • Dr Sarah Clarke President of the Royal College of Physicians
  • Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of The Health Foundation
  • Dr Shankar Sridharan, Chief Clinical Information Officer, Great Ormond Street Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Professor Heidi Larson, Professor of Anthropology, Risk and Decision Science and Founding Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • Terrence Higgins Trust
  • Royal Society for Public Health
  • Royal College of GPs
  • Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
  • Beat
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • British Heart Foundation
  • MS Society
  • National AIDS Trust

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