Theresa May’s government is to set up a national security unit to combat the recent unprecedented spread of fake news and misinformation by foreign powers such as Russia, a Downing Street spokesperson has confirmed this week.

What is Fake News?

Fake news is completely false information, photos or videos purposefully created and shared to confuse, misinform and deceive. Ultimately this form of media influences an individual’s perspective of what is true and what is plain and simply a falsehood. 

Words from Number 10

The PM’s spokesperson said that the new national security communications unit would be a welcome addition to existing capabilities and would be tasked with “combating disinformation by state actors and others.”

"We are living in an era of fake news and competing narratives,” he said. “The government will respond with more and better use of national security communications to tackle these interconnected, complex challenges. To do this we will build on existing capabilities by creating a dedicated national security communications unit. This will be tasked with combating disinformation by state actors and others,” he continued.

He went on to say that the unit will “more systematically deter our adversaries and help us deliver on national security priorities,” adding that there was, as yet, no information on where it would be based or who would staff it.

Russian Meddling?

Last November, prime minister Theresa May launched a scathing attack on Russia, over interference, accusing the country of unleashing a “sustained campaign of cyber-espionage and disruption.” 

The PM continued saying: “This has included meddling in elections, and hacking the Danish ministry of defence and the Bundestag (German parliament), among many others,” she told the audience comprised of City of London business figures. 

“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,” she added.

May concluded by saying the UK did not want to “return to the Cold War, or to be in a state of perpetual confrontation” but the UK would have to act to protect the interests of the UK, Europe and other countries.

Theresa May, among other world leaders and politicians have accused Russia of meddling in the Brexit vote, as well as influencing the result of the US presidential election in 2016. 

National Security Capability Review (NSCR)

The unveiling of the new unit will come as a victory for newly appointed defence secretary Gavin Williamson, as the national security council have agreed to a defence-only review of needs and capabilities. 

The review, to be called the ‘Modernising Defence Programme,’ will incorporate elements of the 10-year strategic defence and security review, which began in 2015, and a separate programme called ‘Joint Force 2025.’ 

“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 objectives,” the No 10 spokesman said.

Labour Opposition

Not everyone shared the same enthusiasm of the announcements of a new fake news unit and defence-only review. Shadow defence secretary, Nia Griffith said that the separate defence review could not simply be used “as an excuse to kick the difficult decisions facing the defence budget into the long grass.” 

She continued: “Just this week we have had serious warnings from the head of the army about the threats that this country faces and there has been growing concern that the government’s deep cuts to our nation’s defences have left us ill-equipped to respond to those threats.”

“The true test of any defence review will be whether it delivers real investment in our nation’s defences and the resources that our armed forces so badly need. You cannot do security on the cheap and it is high time that the government recognised this,” she concluded. 

Other Countries 

French President, Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this month he would overhaul domestic media laws to fight the spread of fake news on social media, which he said was a threat to liberal democracies.