A British army “information warfare” unit has been tasked with countering so-called anti-vaccine disinformation as the UK prepares to roll out millions of vaccines.
The Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU) of the army’s 77th Brigade was founded in 2010 as a part of the UK’s efforts to combat radical Islamic propaganda during the war in Afghanistan. The unit specialises in “building an understanding of the physical, virtual and cognitive behaviours of audiences, actors and adversaries.”
Leaked documents that were reported on by The Times reveal that the secretive unit, which previously targetted al-Qaeda and the Taliban, has been tasking soldiers with monitoring the internet for coronavirus ‘propaganda’ as well as the effects it is supposedly having on the minds of the British public.
A retired army brigadier, Ben Barry, who now serves on the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, told the paper that the army would likely see an increased role in fighting against coronavirus misinformation over the coming months.
The documents also revealed that starting from next month, the 77th Brigade is expected to launch an “uplift” programme to recruit current and reserve soldiers to join the infowar operations of the DCSU.
A spokesman from the Cabinet Office said: “As we edge closer to a vaccine we continue to work closely with social media companies and other organisations to anticipate and mitigate any emerging anti-vax narratives and promote authoritative sources of information.”
The Ministry of Defence denied that the counter-terrorism unit was being used to target the British public, claiming that their operations were “not being directed at the UK population; 77th Brigade do not, and have never, conducted any kind of action against British citizens”.
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The British government is expecting to approve coronavirus vaccines by as early as this week, with injections of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech projected to start as soon as December 2.
To coincide with the jab rollout, the government is also expected to launch a propaganda push to convince Britons to take up the vacine. The campaign will also include a ‘counter-disinformation’ push led by the Cabinet Office in conjunction with the army and the GCHQ intelligence service.
Boris Johnson’s Conservative-led government has already been flagging supposed fake news about coronavirus vaccines for removal to Silicon Valley tech companies, however, there have been calls from the left-wing Labour Party to criminalise ‘conspiracy theory’ posts about vaccines.
The government has so far refused to rule out making the coronavirus vaccines mandatory, yet, they are reportedly considering introducing ‘vaccine stamps‘ in passports for international travel as well as ‘freedom passes‘ for people to go about their daily lives with fewer restrictions.
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