The Tories have set up a coronavirus 'misinformation unit'. Here's 11 times they'd have to investigate themselves

The Tories have set up a coronavirus 'misinformation unit'. Here's 11 times they'd have to investigate themselves

Lots of fake news is floating around thanks to the coronavirus. Sigh.

Misinformation seems to be spreading faster than the illness itself, which has led the World Health Organisation to warn that it might be becoming an "infodemic".

This includes claims that snorting cocaine or snorting bleach can cure people of the virus and that black people are immune from it, due to melanin levels in their skin.

All entertaining, but all false.

The UK’s prime minister was even directly responsible for one rumour that had to be hastily debunked.

Boris Johnson recently boasted during a press conference that he been “shaking hands” with coronavirus patients (as if), implying that it was fine and definitely not a health risk to do so.

He hadn't, obviously, and Downing Street had to deny Johnson had ever said it.

In the wake of this new embarrassment, the government have apparently decided the time is ripe for establishing a unit to combat fake news, which they have identified as coming from Russia and China. (Which certainly makes a change from inside their own Westminster meeting rooms).

What the Tories know about tackling misinformation is unclear.

But what is demonstrable is their expertise in spreading it.

The internet has a short memory but, thankfully, a large archive.

So sit down and refresh yourself on a few occasions when the Tories demonstrated a mastery over peddling the fake news they’re now so desperate to crack down on.

1. @factcheckUK

This is perhaps the chef’s kiss of fake news. Postmodernists would reject something as meta @factcheckuk as being too on-the-nose. But it happened. During a leaders debate in the 2019 general election, the Conversative party’s official press account was rebranded, logo and all, to “@factcheckUK”. It then proceeded to tweet rebuttals to statements made during the debate that criticised the Tories. Quelle surprise. Afterwards, the Tories faced a barrage of denunciations, including from the chief executive of actual fact checking org, Full Fact, who called it an “attempt to mislead voters”. In response, Dominic Raab says “no one gives a toss”. Except the Tories apparently, who revived the account upon their victory to tweeted “FACT: @BorisJohnson and @Conservatives the winners of #GeneralElection19”. Smug.

2. The missing 19,000 nurses

Another election corker. The Tories announced pledges to bring 50,000 more nurses to the understaffed NHS. But after accusations that this was misleading from Labour – and just four days before the election – Boris admitted that actually, only 31,000 of those nurses would be fresh recruits. Post election, Health Secretary Matt Hancock made a big deal of “bringing back” student bursaries scrapped by Tories in 2017.

Again, this was also only half the story. While new student nurses are now eligible to receive bursaries of up to £8,000 again, they will still not have their tuition fees paid – which were previously covered by the state. This means student nurses will be saddled with costs of £21,000 if none of that yearly bursary goes towards paying off their tuition.

3. The “Labour manifesto”

There’s almost too many Tory misinformation moments from the election to mention (a study found that 88 per cent of the Tories Facebook campaigning over the six-week lead up to the ballot pushed misleading claims). But their purchase of the domain “” and subsequent paid promotion of it on Google ranks pretty high. Underneath a picture of Jeremy Corbyn, it claimed Labour’s plans were “No plan for Brexit”, “Higher Taxes”, and “Two more referendums”. Seems legit.

4. Getting Brexit done

The Tories won a massive majority, in part thanks to hammering home the message that they would “get Brexit done”. And while the UK technically left the EU on 31 January 2020, Brexit is by no means “done”. A trade deal is yet to be ironed out. The legislation undone by the deal has to be replaced by parliament, including commitments to employment rights and human rights. New deals with non-EU countries have to be negotiated. Brexit is nowhere near being done.

5. Free parking for hospital visitors

Last week, at PMQs, Boris Johnson promised free hospital parking for all visitors, as we inch closer to a coronavirus onslaught. However, this pledge was swiftly shot down by… erm, his own party. AsScram News report, Greg Smith, MP for Buckingham, was asked about the PM’s promise recently. After consulting with higher ups, he came back to clarify that free parking would only be available for “disabled people, frequent outpatient attenders, parents of sick children staying overnight and staff working night shifts”. Which is definitely not “everyone”.

6. Proroguing parliament to work on a "Conservative agenda"

Lie to the unwashed masses? They vote you into a massive majority. However, lie to the queen about your reasons for suspending the most important legislative body in the country to try and shove through Brexit? Uh, they’ll still vote you into a massive majority. But they’ll also do some angry tweets!

7. The bus

The bus. You know which bus. Might have been a cross-party campaign but it was Tories in charge of that bus. Beep beep!

8. Punch-gate

The punch that wasn’t a punch at all. In a day when the Tories needed to distract from the upsetting news that sick children were being forced to sleep on floors due to bed shortages, like manna from heaven something came along* (*they made it up). After Matt Hancock was dispatched for a photo op to the Leeds hospital where the child was being cared for, protestors arrived too. An aide of Hancock walked into the arm of one as he left. But BBC and ITV reporters heard from sources that the aide had been “punched”. Luckily, video existed of the incident, which conclusively proved no punching or intentional violence had occurred full stop – just someone not looking where they were going.

9. Forty new hospitals

Forty new hospitals, they said. Oh, what’s that? I’m getting word that there’s only funding for six. Close enough!

10. 200,000 new houses

In 2015, the Tories committed to building 200,000 new starter homes by 2020 for first time buyers across England. The initiative was intended to get young people on the property ladder. It is now 2020. How many homes have been built? What’s 200,000 minus 200,000? There’s your answer.

11. Lying about lying

In November 2019, Boris claimed he’d never told a lie during nearly two decades in politics.

Who is he trying to kid?

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