Local politicians from three of the UK’s biggest parties have been sharing conspiracy theories about the coronavirus on social media, BuzzFeed News can reveal.
Examples of misinformation shared by local politicians include petitions which link the spread of the virus to 5G mobile phone networks, and Facebook posts which suggest that prime minister Boris Johnson faked his own intensive care battle with the disease.
The posts are just the latest example of the growing number of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus being shared on social media during the UK’s lockdown.
One such post was shared by Inspire EU, an anti-Brexit Facebook page with over 35,000 followers which is run by Jack Dart, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Devon.
An Inspire EU post on Tuesday said “from death’s door to sprightly Easter Sunday riser in two days? Possible, but then Boris Johnson is a compulsive liar, and Dominic Cummings is an amoral, Machiavellian sociopath, so…”
This post shared a tweet by lawyer Marcus Ball, who claims to have “sent an FOI request to St Thomas’s NHS Trust requesting confirmation/proof that @BorisJohnson wasn’t lying about being admitted there or the severity of his condition”.
The post disappeared after BuzzFeed News requested comment, though it was not clear whether it was removed by Facebook or by Inspire EU.
On Tuesday, the same page shared an article from a website called TruePublica entitled "Editor at the Economist: ‘Something Fishy’ About Boris Johnson’s Intensive Care Stay”.
The article references a tweet by Chris Lockwood, Europe editor of the Economist, who shared a video of Johnson and said, “This is not someone who was at death’s door a few days ago. Something incredibly fishy about the whole business.”
Lockwood later retracted his tweet and apologised, but the TruePublica article is still up, as is the “Inspire EU” post quoting it, which has been shared over 600 times.
Dart told BuzzFeed News his Facebook page had wished the prime minister a speedy recovery, and said he was simply highlighting “inconsistencies” in accounts of Johnson’s illness.
“Whilst we would never promote or condone crack-pot conspiracies, the confusion and distrust that has developed, in part, by these inconsistencies has left the door open for these sorts of questions,” he said.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest anything “fishy” about Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation, which would require a vast conspiracy involving NHS doctors and nurses as well as government officials.
Freddie Bailey, a Labour Councillor in Preston who has over 47,000 Twitter followers, sent two tweets on Tuesday appearing to suggest that prime minister Boris Johnson may be lying about contracting coronavirus.
The tweets were later removed.
“I'm not saying Boris Johnson has faked having COVID-19, but the World Health Organisation say that people appear to keep shedding the virus for 2 weeks after they recover,” Bailey told BuzzFeed News.
“It is possible that they can still spread the virus and infect other people. Boris Johnson has tested negative.”
“It's good to debate,” he added.
BuzzFeed News has also found two local Labour Party Facebook pages that cast similar doubts on Boris Johnson’s admission to hospital.
The Labour Party pages for Weston in Somerset, and Maldon in Essex, shared a link to the TruePublica article with the headline saying Johnson’s intensive care visit was “seriously fishy”.
Molly Samuel-Leport was a Conservative parliamentary candidate in the 2015 and 2017 general elections and is a candidate in next May’s London Assembly elections.
BuzzFeed News has obtained messages from a WhatsApp group for Samuel-Leport’s local Conservative association in Brent, in which she shared a petition called "Stop 5G", and made other posts appearing to suggest she believes in the baseless theory linking coronavirus and 5G mobile phone networks.
“Brent and Harrow has suffered mass lost [sic] of life. I wonder why?” she commented alongside a link to the ‘Stop 5G’ petition.
Conspiracy theories about 5G networks have been bubbling away on social media for a long time but have hit the UK mainstream in recent weeks, with people linking the networks to the spread of the coronavirus virus.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest a connection between the two — but the UK saw 20 suspected arson attacks on phone masts over the Easter weekend.
On Monday Eamonn Holmes, one of the country’s most prominent broadcasters, suggested that people were right to question whether wireless communications infrastructure was spreading the virus.
He later read out a statement saying there is “no scientific evidence” for the comprehensively debunked theory.
In 2015 Samuel-Leport was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the Queen for services to karate.
“My person [sic] thoughts on 5G is I don't know enough and we can't be doing we China [sic] because they can't be trusted,” she told BuzzFeed News, after we asked whether she stood by her posts in the WhatsApp group.