Five ways our fact checking had an impact in June

27 July 2023 | Steve Nowottny, Editor

Fact checking isn’t just about publishing fact checks. It's about taking action to slow and stop the spread of bad information, with researching, writing and publishing a fact check just the first stage in that process.

Last month I wrote about five ways our fact checking had an impact in May. Since then, we've continued to have success on a number of fronts—so here are five ways our fact checking helped improve the information landscape in June:

1. We highlighted concerns about the Home Office's use of statistics and data—and 3,376 of you asked the home secretary to correct the record

In recent months we've published a series of fact checks of ministers’ claims about policy areas covered by the Home Office, in particular immigration

That continued in June when we fact checked a misleading claim from the home secretary Suella Braverman that the asylum initial decision backlog is “down by 17,000”. (In fact, the total asylum initial decision backlog is up, and it's the "legacy backlog" which has fallen. The government defines this as asylum applications made before 28 June 2022 which are still awaiting an initial decision.) 

Publishing the fact check was the start, not the end, of the process. Next, we contacted the Home Secretary to ask her to correct the record. 

When Ms Braverman did not reply, we turned to you for help. We asked thousands of Full Fact supporters who care about honesty in politics (if you agree with them, you can add your name here) to write to her directly, calling on her to correct the record in line with the Ministerial Code. Altogether, some 3,376 people have done so so far—a powerful sign of support for the simple principle that politicians who make misleading claims should publicly correct them.

The home secretary has yet to formally correct the record. We will continue calling on her to do so. But this mass action did at least prompt a belated response—the Home Office wrote to us to say the home secretary had clarified to the Home Affairs Committee on 14 June that she had indeed been referring to the ‘legacy backlog’.

We’ve also raised this fact check, and the home secretary’s failure to formally correct the record, directly with the Home Affairs Committee, along with evidence from our other fact checks of selective and misleading use of data, and a lack of transparency around the sources of claims. You can read our full letter to the committee’s chair.

2. We got a Conservative peer to speedily correct a claim about Boris Johnson 

While we’re still awaiting a correction from the home secretary, we saw a very different response from a Conservative peer to one of our fact checks in mid-June.

In the wake of Boris Johnson announcing that he was stepping down as an MP, Lord Cruddas tweeted that the former PM had won the largest general election majority for 44 years, and had never lost a campaign or an election. In fact, our fact check found neither claim is true

After we contacted Lord Cruddas, he agreed his original tweet had not been correct—and commendably tweeted a full correction the same day.

Other corrections we secured in June include the Mirror correcting a claim (in print) about excess cardiovascular deaths, and the MailOnline correcting an article on home working.  

3. We flagged false claims about the Titan submersible to Facebook users

As I wrote last month, one of the most immediate ways our fact checking can have an impact is through our participation in Meta’s Third Party Fact Checking programme. This allows us to rate false and misleading posts and links on Facebook and Instagram. People looking at those posts and links are told that we’ve fact checked the claim, shown our conclusion and given the option to read our fact check.

Every month we cover a wide variety of claims on social media as part of this work, but in June our particular focus was a large number of claims about the disappearance of the Titan submersible, including misleading pictures, audio and video

Breaking news events like this often lead to false or misleading content online, that sows confusion and upset. Together we can all work to slow its spread. 

4. We cut through confusion over NHS waiting lists—and saw other media grill the PM on his claims

With NHS delays very much in the spotlight in recent weeks, we looked in detail at the government’s repeated claim that it is “cutting waiting lists”. It’s true some specific NHS waiting lists, such as the list of patients waiting more than 18 months for treatment, have fallen. But the overall number of cases where someone is waiting for consultant-led elective treatment in England is at a record high.

This kind of claim can be trickier to tackle, as while it’s potentially misleading, it’s not wholly inaccurate. But we have seen others, in addition to Full Fact, increasingly scrutinise the claim—for example, the BBC’s Laura Kuennsberg challenged the Prime Minister directly on the key point later in June. 

We also fact checked a similar but more specific claim about waiting lists from the health minister Will Quince, who said that community diagnostic centres (CDCs) are “cutting waiting lists”. Again, this was potentially misleading, because the main NHS diagnostic and treatment waiting lists have grown since CDCs were introduced, although CDCs may have prevented them from growing more, and other specific lists have fallen. 

In this case, after publishing the fact check we wrote to Mr Quince to ask him not to repeat his claim unless he is clear about exactly which waiting lists are being referred to. Mr Quince's office told us the contents of our letter have been noted, which is encouraging. 

5. We investigated a familiar claim from Labour about NHS pagers—and found the same figure was in circulation at least six years ago

When the Labour party made the eye-catching assertion that one in 10 pagers currently being used around the world are owned by the NHS, we were quick to ask it for evidence to back up the claim, and disappointingly received no response.

So we started digging. We found the stat was a familiar one, having been cited by the Department of Health and Social Care four years ago (though it could no longer tell us where the figure was from) and appearing in media coverage all the way back in 2017 relating to a clinical messaging company’s report (which is no longer in circulation).

While other more recent figures from US pager companies suggest the NHS may account for far fewer than 10% of the world’s pagers, the real significance here was the apparent recycling of a stat which just keeps coming back with little fresh evidence to substantiate it. 

Anyone making claims in public debate should be prepared to back up their claims with evidence, when they make them. In this case, now we have investigated the claim’s apparent origins (and seen others report our findings), we can all be ready to challenge the figure the next time it is used.

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Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.