Case studies: rebuttal

On this page, there are 2 case studies.

Department for Education (DfE)

Since the start of the pandemic the department has been subject to intense media, union, parliamentary and parental scrutiny. The Rebuttals Team was founded to focus on preemptive rebuttal by communicating the position on key issues before stories break.

Since the team was formed, it has tracked more than 10,000 social media posts, directly rebutted more than 50 stories and has driven traffic to the departmental blog up from fewer than 1,000 views per month to more than 100,000 views per month on average.

The team scans the horizon to identify issues before they emerge using social listening tools and prepares social media materials so the department is forearmed against mis- and dis-information. The content helps rebut issues without looking reactive. The media blog is used for audience friendly content and explainers which are then promoted on social media channels depending on the audience – using Instagram stories where the content is more focused on young people, Facebook where we want to target parents, and working with partners such as Mumsnet and ParentKind to get them to host and promote our content to increase reach.

Ahead of the return to school on 8 March, the team prepared several pieces to set out the position on issues expected to generate media stories and social media chatter during the week.

The blog content included:

Collectively these posts were viewed by more than 25,000 individual users over the course of the two weeks following returns and were used to address calls from a number of journalists to rebut stories before they were even written.

The blog itself has recorded more than 100,000 unique users in successive months (December, January and February 2020/21) compared to just 1,000 in January of 2020 thanks to the way in which it is tailored and promoted directly to target audiences, with unfiltered messaging reaching people across the country and in turn preventing mis- and dis-information taking hold.

Michael Murphy-Pyle, DfE.

Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)

Maintaining trust in government has been crucial throughout the coronavirus pandemic. This was especially true during the uncertainty of the first few months.

In April 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care was approached with claims that DHSC had set up a network of fake pro-government Twitter accounts to ‘disseminate false information and political myths regarding COVID-19 and the Government’s response’.

Through social media monitoring we picked up that the accusations against the department were gaining significant online traction, with screenshots circulating widely of one of the alleged accounts, @NHS_Susan.

Given the dangers posed by disinformation on a serious public health issue, the media and creative content teams took the allegations seriously and moved quickly to rebut them – working with colleagues across government, including in Cabinet Office and DCMS.

We produced a graphic and the social media team used our Twitter channel to reply on the individual’s original post and on posts by accounts who had repeated the claims, to make clear they were false.

We contacted Twitter, who released a statement ruling out any UK Government involvement in the fake accounts, as well as Full Fact, who published a detailed article making clear the claims were untrue. The fake accounts in question were taken down.

Our fast and clear rebuttal – categorically rejecting the claims and underlining that no evidence had been produced to support them – meant that few national journalists wrote up the story, and the online spread of the allegations slowed substantially.

Coverage reflected our position prominently and most articles that did appear focused on the inaccuracy of the claims.

Jim Watkins, Simon Goodwin, Sam Woolven.