Worried parents asked a headteacher whether their children would be ‘forcibly taken off’ them after a crackpot coronavirus conspiracy theory spread to Stoke-on-Trent.
The principal of an unnamed city school was forced to reassure concerned parents who had been taken in by lies spread on social media.
Their unfounded fears had been fuelled by Facebook posts which claimed their children could be taken out of school to be tested for coronavirus and detained for 14 days without parental consent or knowledge.
More than 80,000 social media users had shared the posts despite the Government explaining it was false.
Sue Greenwood, formerly a journalism course leader at Staffordshire University, spoke with the headteacher while researching how conspiracy theory memes are spreading in the UK.
In an eye-opening piece published in The Conversation, Sue, who now works at York St John University, wrote: “A headteacher in Stoke-on-Trent told me that, alongside ensuring a COVID-safe return to school for her pupils this September, she’s having to reassure parents that their children will not be forcibly taken away and isolated in a secret location if they start coughing in class.
“The headteacher keeps getting sent a Facebook post warning parents to ‘wake up’ to the threat in the UK’s Coronavirus Act. ‘Is this true, can you take my child?’ she is asked.
“The Facebook post those parents had seen began going viral mid-August.
“It’s one of several similar posts seen in the UK and Australia, and follows a pattern in many posts linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“These often include a direct appeal to parents, challenging the reader to do their own research to ‘prove’ the veracity of the claim, a call to defend individual rights against big government, elites, or some undefined ‘they’.
“Despite being quickly fact-checked and tagged as false, this and related posts which use the hashtag #SaveTheChildren are still circulating and the phrase ‘covid act 2020 children in school’ still comes up as an autofill option if you search for ‘covid act’ on Google.”
Following the emergence of the conspiracy theory, the government has confirmed to the Children’s Commissioner that the Public Health Officer’s power to screen, assess, isolate or detain under the Coronavirus Act 2020 can only be exercised in the presence of a parent, carer or legal guardian.
One of the posts read: “All parents who’s children are in school NEED TO READ THIS!! The government can legally take children out of school, without parents/carers consent or knowledge and detain them for 14 days!! This is not right, please share around.”