Health Minister calls on social media companies to take responsibility – “It is incredibly frustrating to see direct lies being told about what’s in place within our health service”
The Health Minister has urged people to be more cautious over what they share on social media after one widely spread tweet was debunked by a health board in South Wales – but Twitter UK has continued to publish it.
The tweet referred to is below, and has since been further shared, and due to how Twitter runs its systems the several thousand ‘likes’ will further organically surface the content to many thousands more people.
The South Wales Argus debunked the tweet, quoting the Health Board who said, “Our hospitals are currently incredible busy and we can confirm that the information in this tweet is incorrect. Nevill Hall Hospital has 260 beds, which are fully utilised. One ward was closed last week for deep cleaning but this has now reopened.”
On Tuesday in the Senedd during a debate on coronavirus Alun Davies MS said of the tweet and the contents of the debate itself, “All too often in this debate, we’ve seen people who call themselves public representatives – although the public wouldn’t recognise them – playing with false information, playing with fake news, putting things on social media, not only not knowing if it’s true, but they can be pretty sure it’s not true.”
“Two and a half thousand people today retweeted a lie about Nevill Hall Hospital, saying it’s empty, with doctors playing golf. The sort of information that’s going round our communities and our societies at the moment is really dangerous and it is going to cost people their lives.”
The First Minister said later in the debate: “Alun Davies said that there is a lot of nonsense talked by some about coronavirus, but it’s not just nonsense it’s dangerous nonsense.”
Twitter themselves now regularly decide to fully remove, hide from direct view, or place ‘unsubstantiated’ warnings on tweets that they deem as requiring it – most prominently with some content posted by the President of the United States of America.
Yesterday health minister Vaughan Gething was asked if Welsh government had any discussions with social media networks, if so what were the outcomes. In light of the false tweet with a comparatively huge audience, we asked if there had been any discussion had Twitter UK given any reason why they have judged it not necessary to to take any action on that content they continue to publish and push to a wider audiences.
The minister said: “I haven’t had those discussions, but I am sure we can come back to you about if Welsh government have directly contacted social media companies or not.
“It comes down to not just if the Welsh govovernment notice stuff, but it is actually the responsibility of people who run these social media platforms, they are doing more, but we are not in a game here, we are in a really serious and significant position.
“People who put false stories on the social media are the first point in taking responsibility. People who run those platforms, who profit from those platforms also need to have a share of responsibility.
“All of us need to look again at the position that we’re in because I’m afraid that we’ll see infection rates continue to rise. I’m afraid we’re going to see death rates continue to rise, and that underpins the moment that we’re in, and why the Welsh government is taking this choice with a fire break to help keep Wales safe.
“All of us need to understand that, because whether you like me or other politicians or not, the virus doesn’t care about that. It just isn’t interested, that isn’t its point and purpose.
“All of us need to think about what we’re doing as we’re acting on social media, with our friends and our family, think how can we do things to help keep our friends and family safe? Not ‘how do we find a way around the rules’ or ‘not how do we share an interesting amusing and almost certainly untrue story’ as in this instance.”
The South Wales Argus then followed up referencing the tweet, and asked the Minister how frustrated he was when he sees people ‘disregarding the seriousness of coronavirus while such serious actions are having to be taken by yourselves’.
The Minister replied: “It is incredibly frustrating to see direct lies being told about what’s in place within our health service. Our health services are under significant pressure, our staff in the health service who can see what’s already coming through their doors in primary care and in our hospital based system as well.”
“All of us need to take a step back to ask us what we’re doing and why, to recognise that as we see the rising tide of coronavirus all around us with the information we’re freely publishing and making available the choices are ‘What do we do to help keep us our family and our friends safe?’ how do we do that, and how do we avoid going into a position where we’re harming the great national effort that we face to see Wales safely into the future, and to make sure we lose as few lives and livelihoods as at all possible of what is already an incredibly difficult autumn and winter.”
Recently Public Health Wales asked people to be cautious about what they shared online, for example in a statement that said “It is ‘completely incorrect’ to say Covid tests generate positives for flu or common cold”.
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