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How a lie about Tony Blair and the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital went viral

PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:21 22 May 2020

False information has been spread by thousands of people on Facebook, wrongly linking the Blairs to the company behind the PFI contract at the NNUH. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

False information has been spread by thousands of people on Facebook, wrongly linking the Blairs to the company behind the PFI contract at the NNUH. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

I’ve been getting some weird emails recently.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: ArchantThe Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Archant

A story I wrote in 2016 about how the deal to build the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital (NNUH) has financially crippled it, keeps surfacing at the top
of my daily web figures for the EDP.

Then, two people got in touch to ask me if it was true Tony Blair is making millions of pounds from that deal.

I wanted to ignore them, dismiss them as conspiracy theorists, but surely the renewed interest in an old article and these emails were linked?

I also wanted to know why they thought the former PM was profiting from the private finance initiative (PFI) deal which funded the NNUH’s construction in 2000.

He is not. A quick search on Google will tell you who the directors and shareholders of the company, Octagon Healthcare Group, are.

So why do they think this? And why are they asking about it now?

I found the answer on Facebook.

I searched for “Tony Blair and Octagon” and came across lots of posts all written this month where people had copied and pasted the same false information:

“Tony Blair announced the building of the new Norfolk & Norwich Hospital on 11/1/1998 from a press conference in Tokyo – they started work the very next day !!! It is ‘Rented’ to the NHS by a private company called PFI Octagon at a cost of over £50m a year until 2037.... Guess who two of the Company Directors are = Tony and Cherie Blair ! All 100% Facts = Google them.”

Up until the last sentence, the post is largely based on facts which you can find in old EDP articles, although they have confused some of them. But why does it then wrongly name the Blairs as company directors?

I looked further to find the person who originally posted this false information.

The earliest post I could find was from May 4 at 6pm from someone called “Bob Hunt” who mainly posts about Brexit and Muslims on his page. It only got a small amount of traction.

Then at 8pm someone copied and posted the same false information which Mr Hunt had written and it rapidly spread. That person was called “Ken Price”,

“Nicked from a FB Friend”, he wrote, before sharing that same false information. I’ve messaged him, asking why he shared it.

Mr Price’s post has had 3,500 shares and more than 500 comments, mainly insulting the Blairs.

Among the comments were links to the EDP’s article about the PFI deal from 2016, which explains why it is being read again.

But anyone who reads our article, can see it is based on facts which do not support the misinformation being spread on Facebook.

Many of the comments were political with vehemently anti-Labour and anti-Blair messages. My comment telling them they’ve got it wrong, will be lost amid the 500 comments – and anyway it is too late.

One man even threatened to kill the Blairs because of this untrue post.

Imagine being whipped into such a frenzy by a Facebook post, which you haven’t even bothered to check the accuracy of.

Facebook shows people information which is the most “liked” or “shared” – not which is the most accurate.

Of course, it can not police every post, it is up to us – the user – to take care of what we believe.

It can be hard to do that when we love to read and believe things which confirm our prejudices.

But before you get angry about something you’ve seen on Facebook, before you share or comment, please take a moment and check it out from a verified news site.


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