You'll remember that in October I described how a request for clarification from Forest was all it took for the tobacco control mendacity machine to kick into action. Refresh your memories by clicking here.
This was before discovery of an e-mail which was unashamedly encouraging plain packs supporters to submit multiple signatures, highlighted at the time by Deborah Arnott.
I understand that you have been copied into an email from a junior member of the UKCTCS which was circulated to the UKCTCS list encouraging sign up to the various websites supporting plain packs stating that "You can only vote once on each petition, but I would seriously doubt that there will be cross checking between charity petitions so it may be worth signing all of them to get your money's worth"Piecing together the events surrounding this, I asked a few questions as to how far this e-mail had travelled in this modern internet world.
How long after the original corrupt encouragement was a corrective email sent? How many people received the original email? How many acted on the email before being notified not to? How many forwarded the original email to how many others?Truth be known, we didn't really have much of an inkling, nor would the plain packs campaign or the Department of Health be likely to tell us, even if they knew themselves.
However, writing on the HOOPs campaign official blog (worth a read in full, by the way), Angela Harbutt has provided some info which shows the potentially massive scale of abuse which could have occurred.
Direct links to each of the Plain Packs Protect, CRUK and British Heart Foundation petitions were helpfully supplied.
We know (again from the FOI) that the email encouraging this activity was circulated by the Centre Administrator of UKCTCS to an (undisclosed) list of recipients on 23 July.
It is not clear when the retraction was sent out (or to whom), but fast forward three weeks to 10 August (the closing date of the consultation) and poor old Deborah is called into action again. This time an email from Arnott to the Deputy Director, Tobacco and Responsibility Deal at the Department of Health, reads:Three weeks? Three weeks!
I understand that you have been copied into an email from a junior member of the UKCTCS which was circulated to the UKCTCS list encouraging sign up to the various websites supporting plain packs stating that “You can only vote once on each petition, but I would seriously doubt that there will be cross checking between charity petitions so it may be worth signing up to all of them to get your money’s worth!”.Was the original email still doing the rounds?
Three weeks of exponential forwarding to multiple addresses reaches one heck of a lot of people. Just think of the last forwarded e-mail joke you received with around a dozen previous forwarders still messing up the message, and multiply; multiply; multiply.
So this call to corrupt a public consultation process - originating in a supposedly respected public health institution - could have reached many thousands of people, a good proportion of which could have lazily clicked all the handily-supplied links without a care.
In light of this, I don't think Andrew Black should be too worried about a rogue (and now discounted) signature gatherer filling in a couple of names on a sheet outside Waterloo station, do you?
Simon Chapman would be shocked at this news, I'm sure. He'd probably tweet something like this.
Hear, hear, Simon. I couldn't agree more.