John Swinney apologizes after he was reported to the statistics watchdog for “fake news” Covid tweet
Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney has apologized after being reported to the UK statistics agency for using a “fake news” infographic.
Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells wrote to UK National Statistician Sir Ian Diamond on Wednesday to highlight the use of an unverified graphic making claims about the effectiveness of wearing a mask against Covid-19.
Mr Swinney tweeted a poorly cropped image just before 10 a.m. Monday morning that was used in a well-known meme with claims related to mask protection. Its numbers have been highly controversial by international fact-checking websites.
The graphic claims there is no risk of transmitting the deadly virus as long as you wear a mask and are two meters away. It also makes several other claims about the percentage risk of wearing or not wearing a face mask.
Mr Swinney tweeted the infographic with the headline, “As we move to Level 0 in Scotland – good progress in our careful process of easing restrictions – this is a helpful graphic that shows why we need to wear face-covering and keep our distance.”
As we move to Level 0 in Scotland – a good step forward in our careful process of easing restrictions – this is a helpful graphic that shows why we need to wear face covering and keep our distance. #staysafe pic.twitter.com/AcyrEBmVgb
– John Swinney (@JohnSwinney) July 19, 2021
The same “fake news” was shared by former SNP government minister Roseanna Cunningham and Edinburgh Council chairman, SNP council member Adam McVey, within about an hour.
The claims shared in the picture do not appear to be backed by evidence and the original source of the graphic is unclear. To date, no Scottish government official has given a source for the allegations.
Ms. Wells said: “More than 48 hours after journalists and the Scottish Conservatives raised concerns about this misleading graphic, no action has been taken.
“A message from the Deputy First Minister, which is essentially fake news, has been retweeted nearly 1,000 times and has likely reached an audience of tens of thousands, or possibly hundreds of thousands.
“We gave the SNP every opportunity to admit its mistake and to correct it. It was also raised directly by the media with the Prime Minister and Scottish Government Official.
Shadow Secretary of Health Annie Wells.
“Continuing to use an unchecked graphic like this one is potentially dangerous. It undermines the serious public health message that masks can limit the spread of the virus.
“It can even convince some people that there is no risk from Covid in certain situations, which is not supported by science.
“The repeated bad judgment of the SNP government on this issue is worrying. Fake news has to be deleted and we reported this graphic to the UK statistics agency for their contribution because the SNP ministers are not taking any action. “
Mr Swinney finally removed the tweet on Wednesday night and apologized after ignoring requests to withdraw it for three days.
He said, “I shared a picture on Monday to illustrate that masks and distancing can help stop the transmission of Covid.
“I’ve now deleted the picture because the numbers in it haven’t been verified. I’m sorry. But the message is unchanged: masks and distancing remain crucial to defeating this virus. “
The illustration used by Mr Swinney has been circulated on social media with various characters and in multiple languages including Catalan, French, Burmese and Spanish, but has been debunked by fact-checking services such as Reuters and the Danish website TjekDet.
The infographic has also been adopted as a popular meme with parody versions showing one of the characters in the last row expressing an unpopular opinion and making the listener walk away, resulting in a “0% risk of transmission”.
A leading “false information” expert warned Tuesday that even well-intentioned memes and infographics that turn out to be false can undermine public trust.
During a Covid briefing at Bute House, Nicola Sturgeon refused to say whether she thought the image was misleading but said the “point” Mr Swinney was trying to get across on face coverings was “important”.
Despite criticism, the Scottish Covid secretary left the picture on his personal Twitter account and refused to acknowledge that the numbers quoted were fabricated when we asked him to comment.
Last month, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf was reprimanded by the UK Statistics Bureau of “false” Covid claims for children after he was reported by the Scottish Conservatives.
When asked if she was concerned about fake news memes and misinformation that would undermine the public health message, and if that would arm bad government actors using incorrect information for disruption, Ms. Sturgeon said she was not .
She added, “I recognize the importance of people like me and the Deputy First Minister and Ministers sharing verified information.
“The point we’re trying to illustrate is a really important point because face covering protects us. I think we shouldn’t lose sight of this point. “
Ms. Sturgeon continued, “The Deputy Prime Minister tweeted a picture yesterday designed to illustrate what is absolutely the case – that wearing face masks protects people from the transmission of the virus.
📺 See live: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon holds a press conference on the #Coronavirus (#COVID ー 19).
The First Minister was joined today by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nicola Steedman. https://t.co/UQdpA6pzzf
– Scottish Government (@scotgov) July 20, 2021
“What I also want to say is that I think we recognize that in trying to illustrate this, we should be careful to use properly verified graphics and we will certainly take this into account when we update this information in the future tweet. “.
“But to get the general point across, he’s absolutely right to try, as I do on a general, ongoing basis.”
COMPLETE: Annie Wells’ full letter to the UK Statistics Bureau
Dear Mr. Jan,
Misleading statistics used by the Scottish Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery.
I am writing to you regarding the above matter.
You may be familiar with recent media reports of statistics used by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for the Recovery from Covid, John Swinney MSP.
In a graphic posted online, Mr Swinney made various claims about the effectiveness of wearing masks for preventing Covid, most of which appear to be baseless. Some of the allegations have previously been investigated by international fact-checking websites and found to be at least partially false.
After reports surfaced in the Scottish press, the Deputy First Minister, through a spokesman, refused to cite a source for the information in the chart. It wasn’t deleted either.
The Prime Minister subsequently said she would “reflect” on the use of the graphic but 24 hours later it was still not deleted, nor has the Scottish Government provided a source for the information.
At the time of writing these statistics were not publicly available. They appear to be untested and misleading at best. The Scottish Government has repeatedly been asked to publish the statistics and has refused to do so. They also did not formally correct the information and deleted the incorrect statistics.
Correct use of statistics is vital, especially when issuing public health guidelines during a pandemic. Therefore, I would be grateful if you could investigate this matter and take appropriate action at your own discretion.
Annie Wells MSP