The internet can be a wonderful place, with all of the information you could ever need at your finger tips – but it can also be a minefield of misinformation, rumour, and conspiracy theories.

Labour has now called for new laws to be brought in to try and stop the spread of dangerous misinformation.

They are calling for penalties, both criminal and financial, to be introduced for social media firms that do not do anything to prevent the spread of scare stories about vaccines and false information.

Following the news of a promising Covid vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech, the rumour mill went into overdrive with false and exaggerated claims of potential ‘dangers’.

False rumours included suspicions that the vaccine would alter our DNA, insert microchips into the population, or even be used as weapon of genocide.

The government says there is “a major commitment” from Facebook, Twitter, and Google to stamp this out, with labels flagging false content as ‘disputed’ or ‘misleading’.

Labour has argued, saying it isn’t enough just to remove content flagged by the government.

Jonathan Ashworth is the Shadow health secretary, and said these posts are “exploiting people’s fears, their mistrust of institutions and governments and spreading poison and harm”.

The shadow culture secretary, Jo Stevens has written a letter with Jonathan Ashworth to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, advising there are anti-vax groups online “churning out disinformation” to hundreds of thousands of followers.

Labour added: “The announced collaboration with social media companies last week was welcome but feels grossly inadequate with a promise by them to remove only the content which is flagged by government and which generates profit.”

Jo Stevens said: “The government has a pitiful track record on taking action against online platforms that are facilitating the spread of disinformation, 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.”

Local Facebook groups, Twitter, parent forums, and WhatsApp groups were awash with fear within hours of the news of the vaccine.

It’s feared that this scaremongering would undermine and overshadow genuine health concerns and wishes for the vaccines to be trialled and tested safely and properly.

In recent years, the “anti-vax” movement has gained momentum online, and in 2019 the UK lost its measles-free status from the World Health Organization, after a decline in vaccinations.

Do you think new laws should be brought in?

Images via Alamy