SEVERAL prominent online Yes groups which have become Covid “conspiracy farms” must refocus or risk damaging the entire pro-independence cause, activists have warned.

The warnings come after Facebook groups with followers numbering in the tens of thousands shared posts claiming Covid has been overblown, that vaccines are ineffective, and that images of victims of the pandemic are simply propaganda.

One post on the “Scottish NOT British” (@ImScottishNotBritish) Facebook page, which has around 22,000 followers, claimed an image of a man lying dead on the streets of Wuhan during the first months of the pandemic was “laughable propaganda”.

The National:

On Sunday, that same page shared a photograph apparently taken at London’s anti-vaccination protests which showed a person in a QAnon t-shirt and a placard reading: “If we are wrong, why are we censored? Let’s debate.”

Within minutes that same post was also shared by “YES to an independent Scotland”, which has around 80,000 followers, and “The McCrone Report”, which has around 7000.

READ MORE: Scotland needs a disinformation commissioner to tackle fake news, SNP MP says

While finding the admins of such Facebook pages can prove difficult, this is just one in a series of examples which suggest these Yes pages share at least one administrator with an ulterior motive beyond Scottish independence.

Other pages which have been sharing such anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination messaging include “YES Outer Hebrides” (2500 followers) and “Rangers for Independence” (2800 followers).

One post, shared initially by The McCrone Report before being cross-posted to Rangers for Independence, claimed there was a “new scam variant” and that lockdown was “mutating into a totalitarian dictatorship”.

The National:

On the same day, YES to an independent Scotland generated outrage after sharing a lengthy video of Neil Oliver speaking on his GB News show against giving children the Covid vaccine.

The page was accused of hitting “rock bottom” and the admin who had posted the video asked to identify themselves.

In a similar vein, YES Outer Hebrides shared one post which called for lockdown to end and those with concerns about Covid to “just crawl back under your bed and hide”.

In response, one member of the group accused the anonymous page admin of “using the Yes platform to grandstand a personal conviction”.

They said they had raised the issue “time and time again, with deafening silence in return”.

READ MORE: Stephen Paton: Parts of the Yes movement have been taken over by conspiracy theorists

The YES Outer Hebrides group, which like the other four mentioned does not publicly list its administrators, claims to be based at an address in Stornoway and asks people to “drop by and say hello”.

However, when The National contacted the cystic fibrosis charity listed at that same address, we were told there was “clearly an error”.

The charity further said it had contacted the Yes group to ask that the web page be amended. To date, it has not been.

This reflects the “deafening silence” which The National has also met when trying to contact the administrators of all the Facebook groups mentioned above for comment.

Social media manager and Yes activist Andrew MacLeod told The National that such Yes pages were often run informally, with friends adding friends to often convoluted admin lists.

During lockdown that issue has been highlighted as people used the Yes groups to spread other messages, he said.

MacLeod, himself a sufferer of Long Covid, added that it was “really frustrating” seeing people talk down what he knew from experience to be real, having been infected during the first wave.

READ MORE: Coronavirus and conspiracy: How misinformation is used for malign political ends

He went on: “By all means post that kind of thing on your own Facebook, but when you’re using the campaign pages to post these sort of messages it is harmful to the Yes movement because it intertwines issues that really don’t need to be part of the discussion.

“I know first-hand that there are people who used to campaign, they were active campaigners, people who would help out in a hub and deliver leaflets and things like that, and some of these pages have got them to the point where they gave up doing that sort of thing.

“I spend a lot of time trying to get some of these people back, but they point to posts on [Yes] pages and say if that’s what I’m helping then I don’t want to help. I know that first-hand.”

Alan Petrie, from the Aberdeen Independence Movement (AIM), said the onus was on all Yessers to call out such conspiracies and check their membership in such groups.

Petrie went on: “Disinformation is a growing problem in society and the Yes movement is not immune to it. It’s so easy to hijack or set up a page aimed at the movement and slowly over time change that page into a conspiracy farm. The onus is on us all to call it out when we see it.

“If the Yes movement gets typecast as a group of conspiracy theorists spreading lies we are finished as a cause. Nothing loses us credibility more than tin foil-hattery.”