York student, 17, tricks national media into believing Woolworths was reopening

A branch of Woolworths in Tenterden, Kent. Photograph: iStock
29 Oct 2020 @ 8.09 am
| News

It seemed the whole nation wanted to believe it.

Legendary UK store Woolworths was about to reopen – so reported national and local media across the land.

But only a few hours later, new stories started to appear. Was the ‘Woolworths reopening’ story fake news?

Well, yes it was. And the person behind it was – a 17-year-old student from York!

The sixth-former has confessed all to Jim Waterson, the York-born journalist who is media editor of the Guardian.

The student had been using skills from a course in digital marketing as part of their business A-level: “The experiment wasn’t meant to get that big,” they told Jim, “but thanks to the media and over 5,000 followers, the story got big and it spread further.”

“Fake news is so easy to spread, and it took Twitter over 12 hours to shut down the account.

“There was spelling mistakes and a lack of a website purposely injected into the account, and yet some of the media still took it as gospel. I feel bad for the reporters.”

The student is remaining anonymous to avoid getting any negative feedback from disappointed Woollies fans.

Regional and national newsrooms picked up the story – including the Mirror and Mail Online.

The Guardian has seen an internal email to journalists at Reach, owners of the Mirror and many regional ‘Live’ news titles.

It said: “The story is based on a tweet from an unverified account with just over 1,000 followers and links to a website which does not exist. A newsroom has been in touch to say they now think it is fake.”

Which it turned out – it was. Never mind; perhaps one day the pick’n’mix counter will return to Spurriergate.