Government sets up 'fake news unit' to counter foreign propaganda
A special government unit is to be set up to counter fake news being spread in the UK by foreign powers such as Russia, it has emerged.
Downing Street said the new group will "deter our adversaries and help us deliver on national security priorities".
The decision to set up the new unit, which will be based within the Cabinet Office, was taken at a meeting of the National Security Council.
Ministers have become increasingly alarmed at the spread of fake news on social media sites such as Twitter, and the speed and ease with which it can be produced.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "We are living in an era of fake news and competing narratives. The Government will respond with more and better use of national security communications to tackle these inter-connected, complex challenges.
"We will build on existing capabilities by building a national security communications unit. This will be tasked with tackling disinformation by state actors and others. It will deter our adversaries and help us deliver on national security priorities."
Alex Aiken, the executive director for government communications, hinted at the plan last week in an article for PR News.
He said: "We are seeing changes in the way information is being processed and shared – a tech savvy but disparate audience hungry for information and influenced by a small number of dominant opinion formers in the public eye.
"The real test for government communications is being nimble enough to respond to the many challenges thrown at it while remaining a reliable source of information."
The Russian government has been accused of using fake news through so-called 'bots' on social media sites to interfere in a number of western elections, including the Scottish and EU referendums as well as last year's general election.
In her speech to the Lord Mayor's Banquet two months ago, Theresa May warned Moscow that it would not succeed in its attempts to destabilise other nations.
She said: "It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions.
"So I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.
"The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise."
The move to launch the new national security communications unit came as the NSC agreed the main findings of the National Security Capability Review (NSCR) conducted by the National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill.
Mrs May's spokesman said that the NSC had also commissioned a further programme of work on the defence element of the review, taking the 2015 strategic defence and security review as its starting point.
The spokesman said: "The defence element of the NSCR has shown that further work is needed in order to modernise defence to deliver better military capability and value for money in a sustainable and affordable way in accordance with the national security objective.
"Therefore NSC agreed that the MoD (Ministry of Defence) will take forward a further programme of work with the title The Modernising Defence Programme."