Department of Health denies creating a fake non-binary NHS doctor to support the government’s coronavirus strategy
The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has denied rumours that it is behind a campaign of bot Twitter accounts imitating NHS staff “posting for herd mentality and support of the government”.
The speculation traces back to John O’Connell, the founder and editor of Far Right Watch, which “reports on bigotry and corruption in right-wing, far right, nationalist, neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the UK, Europe and USA”.
O’Connell alleged on Twitter on April 20 that there were “128 fake NHS staff accounts posting for ‘herd mentality’ and support of the government that were set up by DHSC or their marketing agency”.
He has shared one screenshot of a now-deleted account with the handle @nhs_susan, which he claims was created to impersonate an NHS staff member and garner support for the government.
“NHS Susan’s” bio read: “Deaf NHS junior doctor, transitioning in 2020, fighting COVID on behalf of all LGBT+ and non-binary people. Fighting to #BANTHECLAP for NHS workers! #FBPE.”
O’Connell said he had data to support his claim and that he had identified a UK government employee who was behind the accounts, but this information has not been shared publicly.
Posts were sent using Hootsuite, a mass-posting tool. Account registered to 1 person with 4 assigned contributors. pic.twitter.com/r7fRFQaFwG
— John O'Connell (@jdpoc) April 20, 2020
The post quickly went viral, and has so far been retweeted almost 25,000 times.
O’Connell later claimed that 43 of the accounts had used pictures of actual NHS staff, and that he had contacted seven of them, who said their pictures had been used for the accounts without their consent.
The Department of Health and Social Care has now been forced to deny the allegations.
In a reply to O’Connell’s post, the department wrote: “These claims are categorically false. To share disinformation of this kind undermines the national effort against coronavirus.”
These claims are categorically false.
To share disinformation of this kind undermines the national effort against coronavirus.
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) April 20, 2020
Twitter has also said that it has found no evidence of “coordinated platform manipulation”.
In a statement released to various news organisations, the social media platform said: “Our specialist teams currently do not see evidence of large-scale coordinated platform manipulation surrounding the COVID-19 conversation, including suggested coordination associated with the UK government.
“As is standard, we will remove any pockets of smaller coordinated attempts to distort or inorganically influence the conversation.
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“We are continuing to review and require the removal of tweets that do not follow the Twitter rules – half of which we catch before they’re ever reported to us. If people see anything suspicious on our service, please report it to us. This is an evolving global conversation and we will remain vigilant.”
NEW: In response to claims in that Twitter thread with 25k+ RTs that the UK Department of Health has been running a network of fake NHS accounts, a Twitter spokesperson tells me specialist teams have found *no co-ordinated manipulation* specifically in this case. pic.twitter.com/XGJjweoc2E
— Mark Di Stefano (@MarkDiStef) April 21, 2020
O’Connell insists that the data is “still being analysed”.