People who spread fake news about vaccine should be prosecuted, majority believe

Four in five people think those who spread fake vaccine news should face prosecution, a poll has found.

The research by ORB International of 2,000 people, carried out exclusively for the Sunday Telegraph, also found that just over half of people believe a vaccine produced in record time can be safe.

The news comes after medical company Pfizer announced last week that its vaccine is 90 per cent effective and could be rolled out in weeks.

Labour has written to the Culture Secretary to call for emergency legislation to stop the spread of “dangerous anti-vax content”.

The Government said its Counter Disinformation Unit has been working with online platforms to track and act on disinformation throughout the pandemic.

However, the opposition party claimed that anti-vax groups with hundreds of thousands of members are still “churning out disinformation”.

Jo Stevens, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said the Government’s record on tackling the issue is “pitiful”.

She added: “It has been clear for years that this is a widespread and growing problem and the Government knows, because Labour has been warning them for some time, that it poses a real threat to the take up of the vaccine.

“This is literally a matter of life and death and anyone who is dissuaded from being vaccinated because of this is one person too many.”

Labour said the forthcoming Online Harms Bill should be bought forward to tackle the problem.

Vaccines in progress

The Government said it would soon be publishing its full response to the Online Harms consultation.

A spokesman said: "Letting vaccine disinformation spread unchecked could cost British lives.

“We take this issue extremely seriously and have secured a major commitment from Facebook, Twitter and Google to tackle it by not profiting from such material, and by responding to flagged content more swiftly.”

ORB International said that people were more likely to respond positively when asked to take a vaccine to protect their friends and family than themselves.

Worryingly, it said research has shown that disinformation tends to spread six times faster than fact.

Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said social media companies needed to do their bit.

“The Government must stop falling for Big Tech’s excuses, and introduce financial and criminal penalties for failures that lead to serious harm,” he added.

 "We have all done our bit to contain Coronavirus. It’s beyond time for social media companies and regulators to do their bit too."