New laws are needed to clampdown on the “poison garbage” of anti-vaccination fake news and disinformation online, Labour has said.
The party has taken aim at social media platforms for failing to tackle the spread of “nonsensical” conspiracy theories amid the Covid-19 pandemic and has urged the government to bring forward legislation.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Online Harms Bill, promised by the government, should include new penalties that fail to regulate false content which could damage public health.
It comes amid fears the anti-vaxxer movement is gaining ground after the discovery of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, which is set to be rolled out next year pending safety checks.
Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge show, Ashworth said disinformation was still rife online, adding the government must deal with “some of the dangerous, nonsensical anti-vax stuff that we’ve seen spreading on social media.”
He said: “I looked on my phone this morning and you can still find stuff on TikTok and so on.
“So we want to work with the government and find a way of stamping this out. I think it would involve financial penalties.”
He said fewer people choosing to take the vaccine due to online misinformation was “the last thing we want”.
Some of the “poison garbage” conspiracy theories on social media suggested that the vaccine is being developed by “big global business people who want to use it to insert microchips into people”, he added.
Meanwhile, Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech, has been recalling the moment he was told of their vaccine’s effectiveness.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “As a scientist, you of course expect certain likelihood that the card could be positive based on the data that we had so far, but there is always unknown factors.
“And it could be that there is a scientific, biological or medical reason why the vaccine does not work.
“We now know that our vaccine works, and most likely other vaccines will also work.
“So this is really a message which not only changes how we develop vaccines, but also increases the likelihood that we will be able to get this pandemic under control.”
He added it was “absolutely essential” to have a high vaccination rate before autumn next year.
“This winter will be hard. So we will not have a big impact on the infection numbers with our vaccine this winter,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“If everything continues to go well, we will start to deliver the vaccine end of this year, beginning next year.”