Social Media and the Post Office Scandal

Social Media Might Have Saved Many from the Post Office Horizon Scandal

From 2000 to 2014, Post Office Ltd, a publicly owned company, accused over 700 hundred sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, the individuals running small local post office operations in the UK, of false accounting and theft of revenues. An inquiry has determined that the evidence used to prosecute these individuals was not reliable as it was based on an faulty IT system, called Horizon.[1] It has been widely publicized recently and called “the worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history” (Croft 2022). The FT Law Correspondent notes that about ‘706 prosecutions may have been based on evidence from the faulty computer system’ (Croft 2022). One postmaster raised concerns about Horizon, a Fujitsu system, purchased and used by the Post Office as early as 2002, but it was not until December 2019 that the Post Office agreed to settle with 555 claimants and pay damages (Peachey 2022).  

This IT project was a disaster, sending some honest workers to prison, making some homeless, leading to marital breakups, and more. But it was not only an IT disaster. Not only did the Post Office fail to respond and critically question the number of problems it was discovering and placing blame on the postal workers, it also kept it between the Post Office and the sub-postmasters/sub-postmistresses. From everything I’ve read about this scandal, it appears that most of those accused did not realize that they were one of many accused of the same type of crime. While they felt they were honest, they did not realize that the institution was challenging the credibility of many other honest postmasters.

BBC News Photo at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56718036

My question is whether this would ever have mushroomed to this level had social media been prevalent in the early years of these accusations. Postmasters were isolated in 2002. How would they network with others, particularly after being stripped of their jobs. Social media was not around. Facebook was only just launched in 2004 and it took years to reach a large proportion of the public. Twitter was not launched until 2006.

Today, social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, would have enabled individuals to connect with others who suspected the Post Office of a miscarriage of justice. Once postmasters realized that they were not alone and had company, with many others being accused of the same offenses based on problematic claims questioned by the postmasters, their fight back would have begun much earlier and in a more orchestrated way. Whistleblowers within the Post Office would have had an outlet at their fingertips.

Might social media have saved many individuals in the Post Office if they were available and widely used earlier and might their existence today prevent institutions from so easily isolating and accusing individuals of wrongdoing when their doubts are shared by many others. I think the answer to both questions is “yes indeed”. What a shame.

References

Croft, J. (2022), ‘Post Office computer system scandal ruined hundreds of lives, inquiry hears’, Financial Times, 15 February, p. 1.

Peachey, K. (2022), ‘Post Office scandal: What the Horizon saga is all about’, BBC News, 14 February: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56718036  


[1] Croft, J. (2022), ‘Post Office computer system scandal ruined hundreds of lives, inquiry hears’, Financial Times, 15 February, p. 1. https://www.ft.com/content/38ba9f55-f336-4ea3-b060-c15819943023

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