A photo of the four-year-old boy, taken earlier this month, was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on December 8 along with an apology from the chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Despite the prime minister’s own efforts to downplay it, the photo was soon shared widely online by people criticising cutbacks to the UK’s health services. 

However, it wasn’t long before the tale took another turn, as a blatant online push began to try to discredit the image by claiming the incident was staged and was simply ‘fake news.’ 

A comment, opening with “Very interesting. A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital – the boy shown on the floor by the media was in fact put there by his mother,” was posted on numerous accounts on Twitter and Facebook as though a surprising number of people were friends with the staff member and their unverified insider info ‘debunked’ the image. 

The claim was circulated by some prominent social media accounts, including Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson who shared screenshots of the message with the note, “I presume this is genuine.” The proliferation of exactly-worded posts drew accusations from some social media users that the Tory party or their most ardent supporters was involved.

That the comment was shared verbatim by so many accounts in apparent sincerity generated huge mirth online and a massive backlash against the apparent effort to undercut the shocking photo. Some simply attached the quote to their favorite meme images, while others rephrased the latter part of the original message to emphasize their incredulity.

The political fallout from the plight of the sick boy has been wider than just a partisan troll-bashing. PM Boris Johnson was confronted by an ITV reporter with images of the child and instead of answering questions about the situation, Johnson took the journalist’s phone and pocketed it. 

Later, Health Secretary Nick Hancock was dispatched to the hospital at the center of the furore and a fresh controversy erupted when MSM reporters, including BBC political journalist Laura Kuenssberg, reported unfounded claims that one of Hancock’s advisers was punched by a Labour protester. Footage of the incident revealed that the adviser had accidentally walked into the man’s extended hand while passing. 

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