Fact-checking the fake news claiming that a sick boy on the floor of a hospital in Leeds was staged by his mother.
First published in December 2019.
The bots and sock puppet accounts are on the case on Twitter. As you can see, an identical tweet claiming the mother staged the photo was circulated on Twitter.
It is literally copied and pasted, and the accounts are targeting it at various influencers.
Even more alarming is on Facebook. The exact same tweet is mentioned on dozens of fairly dodgy looking Facebook accounts. What’s more is that some of these posts are pasted into groups where they get liked and commented on, often by people who seem to believe it.
In one example, a Facebook user pastes the tweet on the Facebook group for “Seaham Have Your Say”, a page with 24k followers serving the North Eastern coastal town of Seaham. His post gets 91 comments and 26 shares.
This one is even more egregious. The same fake news post spreading on the Facebook group “March Cambridgeshire Free Discussion” with 37k members has 235 comments and 28 shares.
In the comments, many call out the fakeness, others seem to believe it...
It is interesting to note that, in addition to targeting national level Facebook groups, a lot of these accounts are targeting influential local Facebook groups such as that of Cambridgeshire and Seaham. We know the role local Facebook groups are said to play in this election.
Meanwhile, back on Twitter, the Telegraph star political columnist Allison Pearson retweeted the copy and pasted tweet (of course in theory the text could still be genuine – but if so, why is it being circulated by weird sock puppets?). Pearson “presumes it is genuine”.
Allison Pearson is perhaps the most influential proponent of the faked floor theory.
Do stay tuned for her expose in the Telegraph, on Wednesday. I hope she interviewed the senior nursing sister!
For those concerned/wondering: Allison Pearson’s big expose of the four-year-old boy will NOT be in tomorrow’s Telegraph, per a source.— Mark Di Stefano 🤙🏻 (@MarkDiStef) December 10, 2019
Interestingly, Allison Pearson’s retweet of what looks like a bot was then retweeted by Brexit Party MEP Claire Fox (albeit with more caveats – not that it matters really). It goes to show how potentially fake accounts and news can spread so insidiously.
Former England Cricketer Kevin Pietersen also retweeted to his over 3 million followers the same copy and paste fake news story, perpetuating the myth that the boy on the hospital floor photo was staged.
But it does not end there.
A post completing the narrative arc of the “hospital floor fake” was posted in the Facebook group “Vote Leave, East Anglia”, a pro-Boris group with 13.5k likes, by the group administrator.
The group links to the pro-Leave website “Vote Leave Take Control”. It is not clear whether there are official links between this Facebook page and the Vote Leave Take Control website/campaign.
However, the latest fake post thanking the nurses at Leeds Hospital after their encounter with a ‘Labour activist’ is not confined to the “East Anglia, Vote Leave” group. It is being posted, much like the previous posts, on multiple Facebook pages and groups.
The “Warrington 4 Brexit” Facebook group also has the copy and pasted post. The group has over 1,000 followers and the post has been shared 467 times. Assuming the original screenshot is real, it may have been shared 8k times!
Finally – and this is sensational – a woman, whose name has been withheld due to death threats, has told the Guardian that her Facebook account was hacked to spread the fake news about the Jack Barr photograph.
Fake claim about hospital boy 'came from hacked account' https://t.co/o8j1PnB2MD— Guardian news (@guardiannews) December 10, 2019
“I was hacked. I am not a nurse and I certainly don’t know anyone in Leeds,” the woman told the Guardian journalist.
“I’ve had to delete everything as I have had death threats to myself and my children.”
If this is true, it would suggest that the operation could be an external info op.
If her account was indeed hacked, then this is likely illegal under UK law – presumably the Computer Misuse Act 1990, which prohibits unauthorized access to devices.
This would suggest that whoever did it is either ignorant of the law, or is indifferent, or both.
An Act to make provision for securing computer material against unauthorised access or modification; and for connected purposes.
// Source: Legislation.gov.uk
It does suggest that it could be external actor.
Four-year-old Jack Williment-Barr was photographed lying on a pile of coats and breathing through an oxygen mask at Leeds General Infirmary. https://t.co/9SwCARAvSr— BBC Yorkshire (@BBCLookNorth) December 9, 2019
We know the story of little Jack is real. Dr Yvette Oade, Chief Medical Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust even apologised.
She said: “Our hospitals are extremely busy at the moment and we are very sorry that Jack’s family had a long wait in our Emergency Department. Our Chief Executive Julian Hartley has spoken to Jack’s mum and offered a personal apology.
“We have seen a significant increase in the number of people visiting our Paediatric Emergency Department, and this week we saw the highest attendances we have seen since April 2016.
“Jack was quickly assessed upon arrival and seen in two different clinical treatment rooms in the Paediatric Emergency Department. Within four hours a decision was made to admit Jack to our Children’s Assessment and Treatment (CAT) Unit for further monitoring overnight. Unfortunately, the unit was also experiencing exceptionally high levels of demand which meant that Jack was required to wait in the clinical treatment room in the Paediatric Emergency Department until a bed became available. We are extremely sorry that there were only chairs available in the treatment room, and no bed. This falls below our usual high standards, and for this we would like to sincerely apologise to Jack and his family.” [Source: Leeds Live News]
Dr Marc Owen Jones, Assistant Professor in Middle East Studies & Digital Humanities, Hamad bin Khalifa University, Doha, Qatar.
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