Twitter and Facebook have been flooded with fake and misleading posts after a campaign debacle centred around Leeds General Infirmary, just days before voting begins.
The farce began on Sunday when the Yorkshire Evening Post reported that a four year old boy, Jack Williment-Barr, who was suffering from suspected pneumonia, had been forced to lie on the floor of Leeds General Infirmary due to overcrowding.
On Monday, ITV’s Joe Pike asked the Prime Minister about the incident, and tried to show Mr Johnson a photo of the boy on his phone. Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to look at the photo during the interview, at one point grabbing Pike’s phone and putting it in his own pocket.
Tried to show @BorisJohnson the picture of Jack Williment-Barr. The 4-year-old with suspected pneumonia forced to lie on a pile of coats on the floor of a Leeds hospital.The PM grabbed my phone and put it in his pocket: @itvcalendar | #GE19 pic.twitter.com/hv9mk4xrNJ
— Joe Pike (@joepike) December 9, 2019
The same day Health Secretary Matt Hancock visited Leeds General Infirmary to meet the hospital’s chief executive to discuss the incident, but was heckled by protesters as he left.
Later there was a storm on social media as senior journalists, including the BBC’s chief political editor Laura Kuenssberg, and her ITV counterpart Robert Peston, tweeted claims from unnamed sources that Mr Hancock’s special advisor had been “punched” by a protester at the hospital.
But when a video of Mr Hancock’s departure from LGI proved the reports were untrue, both Peston and Kuenssberg apologised for their inaccurate tweets and deleted them, though others are yet to do so.
Have video from Hancock leaving Leeds General just come through so you can see for yourself - doesn’t look like punch thrown, rather, one of Tory team walks into protestor’s arm, pretty grim encounter pic.twitter.com/hD1KwA72gG
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) December 9, 2019
Now, there are reports on Twitter that a stream of “bots” - fake accounts on social media that are designed to look like they belong to ordinary people - have begun posting nearly identical attempts to discredit the Yorkshire Evening Post’s original article on the bed shortage at Leeds General Infirmary.
It’s very interesting indeed. Not only do they all have the same friend. They all have the same person writing their tweets. Tories in full sock-puppet account mode. Shame on you @CCHQPress. pic.twitter.com/fm6aKNAvnN
— Alex Andreou (@sturdyAlex) December 9, 2019
“Very interesting,” the posts read, “A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital - the boy shown on the floor by the media was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and uploaded them to media outlets before he climbed back on his trolley.”
Identical paragraphs have been posted by hundreds of accounts on Twitter and Facebook, leading to suggestions of a wide-ranging attempt to spread fake news just days before voters head to the polls.
But the Yorkshire Evening Post’s story was confirmed as true by Dr Yvette Oade, Chief Medical Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, who apologised to Jack and his family.
“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,” she said.
“Our Chief Executive Julian Hartley has spoken to Jack’s mum and offered a personal apology.”
Read the Yorkshire Post's full report on the crisis at LGI here.