Counter Disinformation Cell
The Counter Disinformation Cell (also called the Counter Disinformation Unit) was officially "stood up" in March 2020, but, according to official admissions, had existed in some form prior to this having been 'activated' to monitor the elections for the European Parliament and UK parliament in 2019.
- The CDU was “stood up” in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in March 2020 – with a particular remit to respond to false information about coronavirus circulating on social networks and other websites. According to the government, the unit had previously been activated to monitor online activity related to the European Parliament election and the UK general election that both took place in 2019. The unit, which brought together resources from the Home Office, Foreign Office, Cabinet Office and the intelligence services, is since understood to have remained in operation and has been responsible for leading government’ response to disinformation – which is defined as the deliberate and malicious dissemination of false or misleading information with the intention to deceive people for political or financial reasons.
- The CDU’s remit also includes responding to misinformation, which is considered to be the inadvertent sharing of falsehoods, largely by members of the general public. Since its creation, very little detail has been made available about the CDU or its work. There is no public information on the number of staff or funding for the unit, the volume of disinformation being tackled, where this information has been published, any examples of the false narratives being encountered, and very little detail on the subject of misinformation or the steps being taken to remove or counter it.
- In the last two years, ministers have responded to 69 written parliamentary questions – from MPs on all sides of the house – enquiring about the work of the CDU. Three recent examples came from Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell, who asked about the number of pieces of false information that have been “directly rebutted on social media”, the number that have been flagged to each of Twitter, Google, Facebook, and YouTube, and how many staff work at the CDU. The response from minister for tech and the digital economy Chris Philp indicated that the anti-disinformation function is “still fully operational”.
- “The CDU is resourced full time and works in close partnership with cross-government teams,” he said. “In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the size of the team in DCMS has increased. Requirements are continually reviewed to ensure appropriate levels of resourcing, including surge capacity as needed.” The minister added: “When false narratives are identified, the CDU coordinates departments across Whitehall to deploy the appropriate response. This can include a direct rebuttal on social media, flagging content to platforms and ensuring public health campaigns are promoted through reliable sources.”
- No detail was provided on the volume of information, where it is being published, or how many staff work at the CDU – reinforcing the minister’s previous comments that “as an operational matter, it is not appropriate for the government to give a running commentary on the amount of disinformation identified”. Philp’s parliamentary responses came as PublicTechnology neared the end of its own six-month quest to find answers to similar questions, or at least a more detailed explanation of why even limited and basic detail has continually been withheld – by an entity whose remit is to point out and combat false and inaccurate information, and promote public bodies as a trusted and reliable source.
- Sarah Connolly 
- Claire Fradley Head of the Counter Disinformation Unit, Security and Online Harms, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Jun 2021 - May 2023 "Mitigated UK societal risk from the most significant disinformation risks, leading a cross functional team to shape and deliver HMG’s operational response to Ukraine, COVID-19, COP26 and electoral events."
- Fact Sheet on the CDU and RRU, 9 June 2023.
British propaganda outfits
- Counter Disinformation Cell (AKA Disinformation & Misinformation Unit) - DCMS is the lead department.
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- Military Strategic Effects
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