Headline, header, lead story, 12 paragraphs and a whole ‘socialist’ but anti-strike character disappear, while new faces pop up in article undermining public support for strikers
A BBC article claiming to detail the impact of rail strikes on a variety of members of the public has mysteriously undergone a dramatic rewrite – including the disappearance of the leading character of the article and the appearance of two new ‘members of the public’.
‘Owen’, no second name given but supposedly a ‘staunch socialist’ who had turned against the strikers, was the starring character of the initial version of the article on the BBC News website. The article said that Owen:
will no longer be able to see his son over the festive period due to the Christmas rail worker strikes.
The 34-year-old from Doncaster was planning to travel to see his 12-year-old boy who lives with his mother in Derby on 27 December, but will not make it because of the walkouts.
He is one of the thousands of people whose festive plans have been hit by the industrial action, which is a result of the row over pay and conditions coming to a head.
Having supported strikes earlier in the year, Owen says he’s now against them due to the festive strikes “ruining” his Christmas.
“I have always been a staunch socialist…but it’s been a year now,” he says. “Enough is enough.”
The Tory Fibs Twitter account spotted the temporary removal of the article but after it reappeared in its new form, Jeevan Rai noted that the ‘heavily edited’ new version was missing ‘about a dozen’ paragraphs – and ‘staunch socialist’ ‘Owen’ had disappeared.
A Google reverse image search conducted by Skwawkbox for the photo used by the BBC returned no other instances of the picture of ‘Owen’. Skwawkbox was also unable to find an ‘Owen’ from Doncaster who resembles the man in the image.
The BBC later deleted its tweet of the article and tweeted that it had removed ‘Owen’ because his journey was “unlikely to be affected by the strikes”. The excuse, published only half an hour or so before the time of writing this article, received short shrift in the responses:
The new version of the article leads with ‘Amelie’, originally the second person in the article, a theology and religion student at Exeter University, who it reported was losing money and missing lectures because the rail strikes would otherwise prevent her from travelling to see her family ‘near Middlesbrough’ for Christmas.
Again, according to Google’s reverse image lookup, the picture used by the BBC does not appear anywhere else. Skwawkbox was unable to find an Amelie mentioning or linked with Middlesbrough, except for one old Twitter account that appears to a different, older person who studied at Northumbria University up to 2018, not Exeter now – nor one mentioning or linked with Exeter University fitting the BBC’s image.
Instead of Owen, ‘Sarah Harris’ of Kent now appears below ‘Amelie’ in the new version. Horrifyingly, Ms Harris reportedly risks missing her work Christmas party because of the strikes, although it takes place on a day when no strikes are scheduled.
Respondents to the BBC’s excuse tweet also noted problems with the article’s claims around Ms Harris:
At the same time, a mass ‘bot’ campaign attempting to smear the rail strikes and undermine public support has been identified on social media, with multiple ‘sockpuppet’ accounts claiming in identical wording to have worked as a train driver but calling for the strikes to end:
The campaign repeats the tactic used by the Tory government or its supporters to mislead voters in the last general election, after NHS disasters, Boris Johnson’s misconduct and busted lies threatened to undermine the Conservative campaign.
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