Tracey Z and the nurses who never died

A case study in social media misinformation

Last month a twitter user called Traceyz18 tweeted out the following message:

I feel so upset. 2 nurses who were in ITU [intenstive therapy unit] in Swansea have died today. 3 more still ventilated. All from the same unit. My heart is breaking.

This would be very sad, if true. But, as it turns out, it is not – the official twitter of Swansea’s NHS trust actually responded:

This is incorrect. We have not had any nurse deaths in our ITU department and your tweet is causing anxiety.

Here’s a screencap of the original exchange (we can’t embed the tweets, for reasons which will shortly become apparent):

The rational response to this, if it were just a misunderstanding, would be for “Tracey” to say “oops, sorry, I was misinformed” and then either correct the tweet or remove it.

Instead, her account has been deleted:

…which is strange.

It’s possible “Tracey” was simply so inundated with people calling her a liar/idiot/troll etc. that she got sick of it and deleted the account, everyone on social media feels like that sometimes.

But that doesn’t really address the critical issue.

The key question isn’t really “who is Tracey?” or “Why is her account gone?” But rather, how did she come by the false information?

Assuming she didn’t make it up herself, who told her it was true?

Somewhere along the line somebody somewhere told a lie. They claimed five nurses were seriously ill and two of them had died based on nothing. A story which, coincidentally, lines up with the media scare-stories about how NHS staff are in terrible danger (when they’re not).

We’ll never know specifically who. But whoever it was is likely still doing the same thing.

Perhaps the most important thing we should take away from this is that the original lie had over 3000 retweets and nearly 10,000 likes before the correction was even posted. The correction, despite being up for over a month longer, still has less than 1/5th that number.

This is hardly likely to be an isolated incident. There are probably thousands of such claims circling the internet that never intersect with those informed enough to correct them, all creating a collage of panic and tragedy of which no individual part could ever stand up to scrutiny.

For example, we are aware of one widely shared story of personal loss which originated from a twitter account which was provably using Shutterstock stock images for supposed friends and family.

Whether “Tracey” was a victim of misinformation or a willing participant the important question remains the same: Who is inventing stories about Covid19? Who would have anything to gain from that?

In 2015 the UK announced the formation of the 77th brigade, known colloquially as the Facebook Warriors, their job is to “combat disinformation” online.

On April 22nd General Sir Nick Carter, the UK’s chief of the defence staff, publicly stated that the 77th brigade were actively “countering Covid19 misinformation online”.

Make of that what you will.


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