The FFS Show episode 3: Covid-19 vaccine, QAnon, and the Royal Family

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project GERS

The third episode of our new fact-checking and misinformation podcast, the FFS Show, has landed.

In this podcast, Ali and Mags take a look at a claim that the contraceptive pill is more likely to cause blood clots than the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

They analyse just how popular the Royal Family is in the UK and Scotland after the controversial Meghan Markle and Prince Harry interview.

There is also an interview with Vice News misinformation reporter David Gilbert, who discusses QAnon, the conspiracy theory linked to the storming of the US Capitol building in January that has gained traction across the US and around the world.

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You can listen to episode 3 below and subscribe to The FFS Show on your favourite podcast platform.

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Episode 3 transcript

This transcript was automatically generated. It may have some typos or errors in it, so please check against the audio recording.

Alastair Brian 0:14
Hi, fact fans. Welcome to Episode Three of The Ffs Show. A podcast that takes you through the morass of misinformation that infects the internet.

I’m your host, All Brian, and with me is my co host, Mags Taylor. Hi, Mags.

Margaret Taylor 0:29
Hi, Ali.

Alastair Brian 0:30
So well we got for our fellow fake news foes in this episode.

Margaret Taylor 0:34
Well, we’ve got more vaccine related fact checks, this one’s to do with AstraZeneca and blood clots.

Alastair Brian 0:40
We just can’t get enough for that vaccine chat.

Margaret Taylor 0:42
We can’t it’s never ending. We also look at whether the popularity of the royal family has taken a hit following that interview between Megan Markel, Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey. And in this episode, we have a special guest interview. We have David Gilbert from Vice News, talking about QAnon.

Alastair Brian 1:05
Mags, you’ve been looking at a claim relating to the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, haven’t you?

Margaret Taylor 1:10
Yeah, that’s right. At the start of this month, countries across Europe started pausing the rollout of the vaccine because there were fears that it was causing blood clots. The Austrian medicines regulator, it suspended the use of one batch of the vaccine after one person was diagnosed with blood clots and died. And then various other countries across Europe, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, they all started pausing it as well. And then that led to an awful lot of claims on social media about the contraceptive pill having a higher potential blood clot rate than the vaccine.

Alastair Brian 1:45
So what was the claim that you checked?

Margaret Taylor 1:48
Yeah, so the claim it was one that was shared on Twitter many, many times, it was liked well over 200,000 times, and it was shared more than 40,000 times and this was one. It was repeated by many other people. There were literally hundreds of claims, claiming the same thing. But basically, this one said Do we want to talk about the contraceptive pill having a higher potential blood clot rate than the Astra Zeneca vaccine?

Alastair Brian 2:12
So there’s been a lot of media coverage around the concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine. Where does it all come from?

Margaret Taylor 2:20
Yeah, that’s right. They’ve been various reports from various various different countries across Europe. I think the first one came from Austria, where the the country’s medicines regulator it suspended the use of one batch after one person was diagnosed with blood clots, and they actually died 10 days after receiving the vaccine. Another person there was hospitalised with a pulmonary embolism. There was also a report for other deaths in Denmark. Again, that was someone who had not long before received the jab. And in Norway, there were several reports of people having blood clots, and also an unexpected death from a brain haemorrhage there as well.

Alastair Brian 2:57
So there have been cases of blood clots in people that had had the vaccine. But is there actually a link between getting the vaccine and getting blood clots?

Margaret Taylor 3:06
No, there’s not. And immediately after these reports started coming out AstraZeneca it released a statement saying that it its vaccine had been given to 17 million people across the UK and Europe. And among that number, there have been 15 reports of deep vein thrombosis and 22 of pulmonary embolisms. Now, those figures are very, very low, and also significantly lower than the incident rate you would expect in the general population anyway, so people get blood clots, it’s quite common. In the general population, the National Institute for Health and care excellence in England, says it to people in every 1000 will have a deep vein thrombosis each year and seven to eight people in every 10,000 will have pulmonary embolism. Now, if you extrapolate those figures, it would be many 1000s, you would expect to have it anyway, among those who are having the vaccine. So that was AstraZeneca’s position.

You may think well, they would say that anyway. But immediately after these reports started to emerge, the European Medicines Agency, it began an investigation. And basically it was looking to see if there was cause and effect, or if it was, these events were just happening anyway, as you would expect them to happen. That investigation was carried out over several days, and they reported back on the 18th of March. And they said they’d come to a clear scientific conclusion that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that there’s no link to increased risk of blood clots. So basically, what they’re saying yes, there’s been a temporal link with some people a very small number of people that have received the vaccine, they’ve gone on to have a clot, but there’s been no causal link found at all.

So there’s no causal link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots, but there is a causal link between the contraceptive pill and blood clotting. Many studies have been done over the years that show a link between combined hormonal contraception and a higher risk of developing blood clots. So it’s actually not just the pill and it’s not all kinds of contraceptive pills. It’s the combined pill, not the mini pill, and the contraceptive patch or the vaginal ring, and actually also HRT as well could have a higher risk of blood clots too.

And that’s because these all contain oestrogen and, and the charity Thrombosis UK, it says oestrogen effectively makes the blood more sticky. And that’s why it can heighten the risk of clotting.

Alastair Brian 5:28
So what is the blood clotting rate for the contraceptive pill?

Margaret Taylor 5:33
Well, it varies actually. So the combined pill as well as oestrogen has progesterone in it. And it depends actually on how much progesterone is present. Various studies that have been published in the British Medical Journal have looked at this. So essentially, depending on which pill people are taking the extra clotting cases per year varies from six per 10,000, up to 14 per 10,000.

Alastair Brian 5:59
So if the higher end of the blood clotting rate and contraception pill is 14 per 10,000….

Margaret Taylor 6:05
That’s 14 additional as well. So that’s 14 plus the 67 that you would have seen in the population anyway.

Alastair Brian 6:12
Good point. So if the 14 additional blood clots per 10,000 How does that compare to the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Margaret Taylor 6:22
Yeah, the sense is slightly moot because the contraceptive pill has been found has been found to increase the risk of blood clots while the vaccine hasn’t. But really, by definition, that means that it does have the potential to cause more blood clots so we went with mostly true for this one.

Alastair Brian 6:44
You’re listening to the ffs show podcast, a show about misinformation and fat checking by the ferret. If you’d like to help us do more podcasting and more backtracking, you can’t like joining us at theferret.scot/subscribe

On this episode, I interviewed David Gilbert. He’s a staff writer for Vice News, working around misinformation, and specifically on the conspiracy theory q anon.

I began by asking David, just what is q anon? And what do its followers believe?

David Gilbert 7:15
I suppose easiest way to describe it is it’s a conspiracy theory that has its basis in conspiracy theories, decades, centuries, even older. But it’s one that’s unique because it’s kind of been birthed at almost entirely on the internet. It started around 2017 on a website called 4chan and moved to another website called 8Chan, and then kind of bubbled away on fringe websites for a couple of years and then kind of exploded onto the mainstream in 2020, through Facebook and Twitter and YouTube.

And essentially, the conspiracy boils down to the fact that

believers believe that there is a global satanic cannibalistic paedophile ring being run by Democrats, US Democratic lawmakers and Hollywood elite, and they are kind of conducting this child sex trafficking ring. And then the other part of it is that Donald Trump is secretly working to undermine the deep state who are helping let these paedophiles continue their work.

And he is their hero. He is the person who was trying to unmask this paedophile ring and bring about “the storm” as QAnon followers call it who and they believe that we’ll see mass arrests and bring kind of a new, a new dawn, when all these these people will be unmasked.

Alastair Brian 8:53
So obviously we know its roots are from the image boards a 4chan and 8Chan. But how does it go from these image boards on the kind of traditional conspiracy fringe? That’s been, you know, going around for, as you say, four years? How does it transfer from that into a sort of slightly more mainstream position?

David Gilbert 9:13
Yeah, it’s a really interesting topic this because and it’s something that still people are still really investigating and looking closely at how exactly this happened. But it basically went from I suppose it kind of became popular on 8Chan and it moved there from 4chan very quickly after the first Q post, Q being the kind of anonymous leader of this, who posted messages on these message boards. And effectively it was just a small group of people who picked it up and saw that on these message boards, he was getting popular, so they decided to move it from there to Reddit where it gained quite a lot of popularity. And from there, it moved to YouTube where people began recording podcasts or recording videos, and

It kind of grew organically effectively, between 2017 when it first launched and maybe the end of 2019. And then it kind of at that point that had grown so big that it, it started to morph, to change, and it began to go. It was able to kind of grow on Facebook and Twitter, without the platform’s taking any action against it, because they didn’t really see it as a problem, because they thought it was so niche. But then in 2020, the QAnon followers hooked on to campaigns called Save the Children, which is a real charity does real work to kind of help children who were trafficked for sex around the world.

But QAnon saw it as an opportunity to kind of, you know, weaponize a hashtag effectively and on Instagram, and Facebook in particular. This hashtag was used to grow their numbers massively because it wasn’t labelled as QAnon. It was just labelled as Save The Children. So people just thought, well, this is about saving children. You know, what, what’s wrong with that? Yeah, but what they were buying into was this conspiracy that there was a secret cannibalistic paedophile ring being operated by Democrats. And so they were kind of drawn into QAnon by a light version of the conspiracy theory, a watered down version of it and that’s how it became so mainstream on these platforms and how ultimately, it was tacitly endorsed by Donald Trump when he refused to denounce it.

Alastair Brian 11:43
There are quite a few different fringe conspiracy theories that have been going around even pre internet obviously, like David ickes, reptilian conspiracy stuff that Alex Jones has been doing for many years, there’s something slightly different and successful about QAnon that the reptilian conspiracy, etc, stayed in the niche fringe, whereas q anon seems to have crossed over to an extent into, as I say, a mainstream kind of audience.

David Gilbert 12:07
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s fascinating. It’s, I suppose it’s quite unique in terms of conspiracy theories, because there is no kind of foundational text, I suppose the Q drops, there’s about 5000 of those messages posted by Q on 8Chan. They are the foundational text, and they’re kind of quoted as scripture by the people who, you know, follow it closely. But QAnon has really beyond what q has said. There’s there’s very kind of popular beliefs such as that JFK Jr. isn’t actually dead. He’s alive. And he was going to come back as Donald Trump’s Vice President, that was ruled out by Q, yet it’s still believed by a huge amount of Q anon followers. And so that’s an example of how q anon is kind of this ever changing, morphing, conspiracy theory.

It’s not, it’s not just one kind of straight, direct narrative. It constantly changes. And that’s how it’s become so popular, I think, is because it’s kind of consumed antivaxxer conspiracy theorists, it’s consumed anti 5g conspiracy theorists, it’s, you know, COVID deniers, it’s kind of come along at a perfect moment to kind of become this all consuming conspiracy. Kind of a conspiracy Singularity is one of my colleagues kind of described it previously, his word. It is the backbone, and all these other kind of conspiracy groups have kind of latched on to it. And it’s, it’s scary how it’s able to grow within those communities, and grow really quickly.

Alastair Brian 13:49
That’s a really, really interesting point. I think, also, as you and many others have written about in the past, there’s been very specific dates that have been talked about as the time when the arrests will start or when Donald Trump will be put into power indefinitely. And those dates have passed. And yet the conspiracy continues. So where are we post Biden’s election? Where is QAnon? How are the people who support QAnon and believe in QAnon – How are they reacting to, essentially a lot of the dates which they had placed a lot of faith in, not coming to pass?

David Gilbert 14:26
Like, I suppose after January 20th, when Biden was inaugurated and many, many people and a lot of the major accounts there had kind of said, This isn’t gonna come to pass this is going to be you know, this won’t happen. Trump will in Act military rule or whatever. There was, there was quite of quite a lot of anger and outrage but in a couple of days it has simmered back down again, and they were back to kind of looking into March but that’s past and some of them a few of them are looking to march 20, but most of them are kind of saying… you know… the dates are secret no one will ever know it.

So you know, that’s kind of moved on. But this this is something that QAnon has been praying believers have been praying for him from day one. When q first posted back in the end of October 2017. The first post was saying that Hillary Clinton’s arrest was imminent. And that never happened. But yes, QAnon continued to grow into, you know, Hillary Clinton’s arrest has been imminent for four years now. Nearly.

So it’s, yeah, it’s it’s something that they have been praying for. And while there is kind of it is in a state of flux, the vast majority of Qanon followers are still kind of sticking to the plan sticking to their beliefs that at some point, Trump will return.

And they’re not saying now, that it’s going to happen on a particular date, because they’ve seen that that’s kind of a fool’s errand, but they’re going they are sticking to the belief that there is this kind of conspiracy taking place, and that and that Trump will save them at some point.

Alastair Brian 16:09
Well, let’s talk a little bit about Q. themselves, because obviously, q refers to a level of military clearance, does it?

David Gilbert 16:17
Yeah, q clearance. It’s a it’s a level of top secret clearance that some people put in the US government have.

Alastair Brian 16:26
So it’s based on a real level that does exist. Yes. And like it’s the Q anon came along after on 4Chan there had previously been efforts to kind of create this in government Insider. Effectively, what was kind of a game where people would try different narratives. They pretend to be FBI insiders, you know, there was FBI anon, there was even Highway Patrol anon, there was different people trying to kind of it was just, you know, seeing who could they get, you know, to get to believe that they have insider information. And q anon was just one of these and it just stuck.

Yeah. You mentioned before about Donald Trump’s, well, obviously, his role in the theory itself, but also his role in perpetuating it. What exactly has he said and done in order to kind of boost the theory? So he, like, I suppose, mid 2020s, Trump was gearing up for the November election. His reelection bid, he was asked several times in interviews to openly denounce that he was first asked during a q&a in the White House.

David Gilbert 17:38
You know, what he knew about QAnon on. He said he knew very little about it, except that they were nice people who liked me a lot. And they wanted to save the children. So is that a bad thing? And then it was followed up during one of his town halls ahead of the election when he was opening us to denounce q anon and he wouldn’t do it again. So you know, that obviously got a massive reaction within the QAnon community, on message boards and forums, people were really happy with that, because they took it as proof that he was kind of on their side.

Alastair Brian 18:13
Yeah.

David Gilbert 18:14
And then right in the run up to and just after the election he was sharing. He was retweeting messages from quite a number of Q anon related accounts or accounts that had boosted Q in the past, including Ron Watkins, Jim Watkins son, who had suddenly after the election, turned himself into what he claimed was like one of the world’s best network analysts. So he was coming out with a lot of baseless claims about election fraud and the Dominion voting system. So Yeah, Trump really did his utmost to perpetuate the QAnon myth, and given how central he is to the mythos of Q anon, that was, you know, massively damaging, and would have reinforced the belief of a lot of people that they were on the right track, they knew, you know, that they were right about the conspiracy.

Alastair Brian 19:14
I mean, we’ve known him, obviously, throughout his time as president before and since that he will sort of opportunistically jump on board things and amplify falsehoods, if it means if it’s going to help him. So we think they’ve just sort of opportunistically using the kind of power of the Q anon conspiracy to sort of bolster support for himself and also to call into question things like the election?

David Gilbert 19:38
Without a doubt he sees them as a group of people who will never turn their back on him.

Alastair Brian 19:49
Yeah.

David Gilbert 19:50
He sees them as kind of a group he needs to keep on side because after the election, one by one, you know, the republicans and even some of his biggest fans in Congress began to turn against him and said, Okay, well, look, you lost the election, the election is over. But he knew, like, as he turned to, you know what his legal counsel in the White House dismissed these claims of election fraud. He rounded up this group of lawyers like Sidney Powell and Lynn Wood, who have been spreading QAnon conspiracy theories for a while. And he used them because they were willing to basically say whatever he wanted them to say about…

Alastair Brian 20:35
Yeah.

David Gilbert 20:37
…election fraud. So by keeping the Qanon folks on side, he is, you know, future proofing himself that he knows that even if he never wins another election, he’ll always have this kind of base that he can go to where he can either, you know, set up another grift by getting them to turn up to some rally or buy a T shirt or buy a cap or, you know… it’s kind of a way of future proofing his income effectively, because he knows these people will follow him wherever he goes, and will do whatever he says.

Margaret Taylor 21:19
So Ali, you’ve been looking at the royal family for this episode, haven’t knew what was the prompt for that? Was it Megan Merkel’s interview with Oprah Winfrey?

Alastair Brian 21:27
It was Yeah, so Meghan Markel had an interview with Oprah Winfrey, where they complained about a lack of support from the royal family. After Megan Markel was suffering from mental health issues based on criticism that she was getting from the tabloid press. And also she mentioned that an unnamed royal family member had apparently questioned the skin colour of her son before he was born. This has obviously created a lot of talk online about the royal family and its future and the current state of the monarchy. So we thought we’d look at basically how popular the monarchy is in the UK.

Margaret Taylor 22:02
Yeah, so this has obviously been huge news, not just in the UK, but all around the world, hasn’t it? But how popular are the Monarchy within the UK? Do people want to keep them?

Alastair Brian 22:10
Yeah, according to polling, it seems the majority of people in the UK or most people in UK are in favour of the monarchy and its continuation.

There doesn’t seem to have been a massive looking at the polls before they were taken before and after the interview, there don’t seem to be a massive shift in public opinion. Polls by YouGov, Opinium Servation, jL partners, Ipsos Mori, all of them are consistently showing that most people around between sort of 50 and 55% of people who are polled are in favour of the monarchies continuation. And between sort of 25 to 35% of people support it being replaced by a republic.

Margaret Taylor 22:51
I guess that’s quite interesting, because there was such a backlash after the interview. And was there any kind of split in age range between what people were saying?

Alastair Brian 23:00
Yeah, so if you go if you weren’t on social media, you might have experienced quite a significant groundswell of support for…

Margaret Taylor 23:07
Yeah, there was huge support wasn’t there? Yeah.

Alastair Brian 23:09
Yeah. And and there was significant support in the country. But it does seem that majority of people that were polled had more sympathy for the Queen and the senior royal families, rather than Harry and Megan. That sort of changes by age. So the youngest people who have been polled are much more likely to support Prince Harry and Megan Markel over the royal family. And they’re also more likely to support a republic and moving away from royal family in general.

Just taking a YouGov poll from March this year, you’ll see that people over 65 77% of them want, the monarchy to continue with just 17% of them backing the abolition of the monarchy. But then if you go to 18 to 24 year olds, in the same poll, only 37% of them supported the monarchy’s continuation, and 42% wanted an elected head of state. So we’ve got a really wide age gap.

Margaret Taylor 24:01
It’s huge difference, isn’t it?

Alastair Brian 24:03
Yeah, it seems like as you go through the age brackets in polling, each one, you’re getting an increase in support for the monarchy, and a decrease in republicanism.


That obviously has to be taken with a slight bit of caution, because these are sub samples from polls, so they’re individual age brackets aren’t huge sample sizes.

Margaret Taylor 24:21
Sure.

Alastair Brian 24:21
But it does seem to be consistent across a number of polls that younger people are much more in favour of a republic and republicanism and older people are much more in favour of the monarchy.

Margaret Taylor 24:31
What about in terms of Prince Harry and Megan Markel? Was there any kind of marked difference between attitudes towards them by age?

Alastair Brian 24:38
Yeah, so again, similarly, the yougov poll showed that young people are far more likely to support Meghan Markel, and Prince Harry over the current dispute. So 48% were more sympathetic to Prince Harry and Megan Markel, compared to 15% of young people more favourable to the royal family. Then again, go to over 60 those 65 and over and it flips completely, so 55% of those 65 and over supported The Royal Family and just nine percent are more sympathetic to Harry and Megan.

Margaret Taylor 25:03
But what about across the United Kingdom? Was there any difference between Scotland and England or Scotland and the rest of the UK?

Alastair Brian 25:10
Well, every area of the UK broadly had more support for the monarchy over an elected head of state. So there’s no way of the UK which consistently seemed to show majority support for republicanism. But it seems like in Scotland, slightly fewer people are supportive of the monarchy and a slightly higher backing for a republic. Again, sometimes Scotland’s, in some of the polls Scotland was quite similar to London, and its views, but it seemed in general, if you looked across Scotland was among the lowest in support for the monarchy and among the highest in support for republicanism.

Margaret Taylor 25:54
That’s it for Episode Three of the ffs show. Thanks for listening, thanks to the listener that sent in the recent query asking what ffs stands for. We’re happy to confirm that it is For Facts Sake, not the other thing.

Unknown Speaker 26:07
Tune in next time to catch the rest of Ali’s interview with David Gilbert. And if there’s anything you’d like us to look into, drop us a line at factcheck@theferret.scot

Photo thanks to iStock/Irina Krolevetc.

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