Lazy eyes listen
The “UK intelligence community” collaborated closely with the government’s ‘Counter-Disinformation Unit’ (CDU) to monitor Covid-related opposition on social media, according to classified papers obtained by the Telegraph on Friday.
The relevant records were handed to the British government’s ongoing Covid-19 inquiry, which was established earlier this year to investigate the government’s reaction to the outbreak.
The documents, labeled “official sensitive,” indicate that the “UK intelligence community” was “working closely” with the CDU “where appropriate” throughout the pandemic, according to the publication. The documents do not specify which intelligence organizations, including MI6, MI5, and GCHQ, collaborated with the CDU.
Little is known about the inner workings of the CDU. The team, which was formed in 2019 to battle so-called “disinformation” preceding European elections, reportedly had up to 50 staff members during the pandemic, according to Susannah Storey, director general for digital, technology, and telecoms at the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology.
According to Storey, the CDU reports to a 12-member “disinformation board,” which includes members of the “intelligence community.” According to the Telegraph, Sarah Connolly, the board’s director, previously told Parliament that one of the CDU’s primary jobs was “passing information over” to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (now rebranded X) to “encourage… the swift takedown of posts.”
The CDU employed artificial intelligence to locate and highlight remarks by critics of the government’s Covid policies, according to documents published by the Telegraph earlier this summer. These allegedly included Molly Kingsley, whose children’s advocacy group ‘UsForThem’ had campaigned against school closures during the pandemic; Alexandre de Figueiredo, a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine research fellow who spoke out against mass-vaccinating children against Covid-19.
The government disputed the charges, claiming that it only monitored “narratives and trends” rather than the people who shared them.
The CDU’s actions are similar to those of several government entities in the United States, which worked with major social media platforms to remove dissenting views and ban the accounts responsible. According to internal documents provided by Elon Musk following his acquisition of Twitter last year, the platform’s previous administration erased tweets on behalf of the FBI, CIA, Department of Defense, and a Covid-focused research group comprised of individuals from the three agencies.