The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is seeking a specialist supplier of social media monitoring software that can be used help the government establish a “comprehensive picture” of false information circulating online.
DCMS is the home of the government-wide Counter Disinformation Unit, which was “stood up” near the start of the pandemic with the remit of identifying and combatting false narratives about the coronavirus.
Recently published procurement information reveals that the department is seeking a supplier to provide “monitoring and analysis services” for online misinformation and disinformation.
The chosen firm, which will be appointed to a 10-month contract worth an estimated £500,000, will be expected to provide software that can analyse posts on social networks and the language used therein.
“[DCMS] requires a supplier to support cross-government efforts to build up a comprehensive picture of potentially harmful misinformation and disinformation online through provision of social media monitoring and analysis,” the contract notice said.
Bids for the contract are open until the end of this month, with a deal due to be awarded at the start of June. Tender documents indicate that this is likely to be a recurrent procurement, with DCMS expected to publish another opportunity notice in early 2024.
The department’s Counter Disinformation Unit – which the government indicated had previously been activated during elections – brings together resources from the Home Office, Foreign Office, Cabinet Office and the intelligence services, as well as its host department. Since being brought into play at the start of the coronavirus crisis, it has remained in the full-time operation.
The CDU leads government’s efforts to find and counteract disinformation – which is defined as the deliberate and malicious dissemination of false information for political, ideological or financial reasons. Its remite also includes responding to misinformation, which is characterised as the inadvertent sharing of falsehoods online, largely by members of the public.
The government has been conspicuously coy about the work of the unit; numerous questions from MPs have gone unanswered by ministers, and a recent six-month campaign by PublicTechnology to discover even the most basic information – about a unit dedicated to promoting truth and accuracy – was, ultimately, unsuccessful.
Another government unit dedicated to combatting online misinformation, the Cabinet Office-based Rapid Response Unit, recently invested in a “listening tool” to enable officials to monitor and analyse conversations on social media. The technology will be provided via a £75,000 one-year contract with software firm Cision.
Sam Trendall is editor of CSW sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared