People who would sooner not have a jab of something rolled out in 6 months now grouped with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The army has mobilised an elite “information warfare” unit renowned for assisting operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban to counter online propaganda against vaccines, as Britain prepares to deliver its first injections within days.
The defence cultural specialist unit was launched in Afghanistan in 2010 and belongs to the army’s 77th Brigade. The secretive unit has often worked side-by-side with psychological operations teams.
Leaked documents reveal that its soldiers are already monitoring cyberspace for Covid-19 content and analysing how British citizens are being targeted online. It is also gathering evidence of vaccine disinformation from hostile states, including Russia,
Next month the 77th Brigade will begin an “uplift” of professional and reserve soldiers to join operations. The brigade’s badge bears the same mythical creature used by the Chindits, an Indian army guerrilla warfare force known for its unconventional methods in the Second World War.
The scaling up of intelligence efforts comes after at least 155 people were arrested, including for assault on a police officer, during anti-lockdown protests in the West End of London yesterday. Many appeared to be influenced by anti-vax propaganda and refused to wear masks.
Ministers are alarmed at the impact that online propaganda is having on public opinion. A recent report found that more than one-third of people are uncertain or are very unlikely to be vaccinated.
Ministers believe Britain will become the first western country to approve a vaccine next week. A BioNTech and Pfizer treatment is set to receive approval within days, paving the way for injections as soon as December 7. Ministers will then launch a huge public campaign to encourage people to get a jab.
The campaign will be reinforced by counter-disinformation efforts led by the Cabinet Office, with support from the army and GCHQ.
Yesterday, conspiracy theories claiming that the pandemic was a cover for a plot by Bill Gates to implant trackable microchips into people, were readily available on Google and Twitter.
Last night, retired army brigadier Ben Barry, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said the army would probably become increasingly important in countering Covid-19 disinformation.
A core part of its work was analysing how messages flowed around the world, who was viewing messages, reacting and then spreading them to other people.