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Defence Forces attempted to track down mystery male responsible for infamous viral WhatsApp voicenote

The clip claimed that the army was to start patrolling the streets.

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THE DEFENCE FORCES conducted an investigation over fears one of its members was behind a WhatsApp voice note purporting to contain confidential information about an alleged lockdown. 

The voicenote, which was to become infamous in Ireland, was sent in March of this year at the outset of the pandemic. 

At the same time, then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in the US for the annual St Patrick’s Day visit to The White House and was set to announce a range of restrictions as part of the country’s response to Covid-19.

The message claims to be someone passing on a message to fellow members of the Defence Forces to “be in the barracks” early on Monday morning.

The male told supposed recipients about certain equipment they’ll need to bring with them, and said the army was going to be patrolling the streets to make sure everyone was staying inside and observing lockdown protocols. 

Right lads, I’ve just got the message there, we’ve to be in the barracks for zero-six-hundred on Monday morning. The first parade will be zero six thirty. You need to be shaved, fed, bergens [backpacks] packed, wet kit, warm kit, everything ready to go.
An Taoiseach will make the announcement at zero eight hundred hours that the country is in a Status Red emergency.
A state of emergency so from zero eight hundred we’ll be patrolling out around Dublin making sure people is on lockdown; making sure there is nobody out; making sure people are only driving to the right places.  
This has come down from HQ. Got the word tonight there. So bergens packed, ready to go, wet kit, warm kit, shave, ready to go, Monday morning, ok. Enjoy your weekend.”

As part of this series on misinformation, TheJournal.ie also attempted to track down the sender but as a Defence Forces source said, looking for the person involved would be a “needle in a haystack” sort of job for even the military police. 

However, it is understood the Defence Forces military police did carry out a probe into the existence of the message as there were concerns it came from a member or someone connected to a member.  

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Senior sources familiar with the incident told this publication that the voice note was a “nightmare” for the Defence Forces, which had been using its official social media platforms to share up-to-date news on its Covid preparations. 

Defence Forces’ leadership made aware of the message were said to be “incredibly frustrated” that misinformation had been shared in such a manner, including the claim about army member patrolling the streets. 

However, the source said there were a couple of things about the voice note that would “make you think the man wasn’t officially in the Defence Forces”. It is the contention of many within the Defence Forces that it could have been the case that a friend of a member sent the message having been told snippets of information about what was due to happen on the Monday morning. 

On the afternoon of Friday, 13 March, TheJournal.ie FactCheck team debunked the message‘s claims about ‘status red’ lockdown. Its report outlined how Defence Forces personnel had been asked to report to their barracks on Monday, 16 March to be on standby to support civil authorities under status yellow conditions. 

The Defence Forces said there was “no substance whatsoever” to the message, adding that it was “unhelpful and irresponsible”.

The then-Tánaiste Simon Coveney criticised the anonymous sender the following week, accusing them of deliberately causing panic. The then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged people to stop sharing unverified information in WhatsApp groups. 

TheJournal.ie‘s FactCheck article was read by over 310,000 people.

Despite the claim being widely debunked across media outlets and political parties, it had a second wave just days later. And then a third life when Defence Forces’ personnel were seen setting up a test centre on the quays in Dublin. 

Those subsequent claims were also debunked by TheJournal.ie FactCheck. They were three of a number of false claims that Ireland was about to see martial law introduced. 

At this phase of the crisis, the Defence Forces was operating under what it calls a ‘status yellow’. This means that the members are on call to be deployed to help other civil authorities such as the gardaí and the health workers.  

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Through 2016, deep fakes, Brexit and Trump, Ireland did not see misinformation in the same way or at the same level as other jurisdictions.

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But since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed, TheJournal.ie FactCheck has debunked or examined 75 claims about the coronavirus. Through that work, we have been able to track the pandemic’s impact on Ireland’s susceptibility to and relationship with fake news.  

In this series, we will investigate some of the more notorious stories – who started them, and what effect they had on the population? We interrogate the atmosphere and tools that allowed the messages to spread – their R number as scary as Covid-19’s.

This new coronavirus may not be with us forever, but misinformation could be one of its deadly after-effects. 

So now we ask: Is Ireland changed forever? See the full series here.

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