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Latest 02 January 2024

How Palantir and Topham Guerin’s plan to discredit us unravelled

Social media influencers give us the inside story of a campaign to discredit Good Law Project over the concerns we have raised about the award of a huge NHS data contract to tech giant, Palantir.

When an email landed in Dr Julia Patterson’s inbox from Disrupt marketing agency just before Christmas, asking her to get involved in an NHS campaign, she thought that sounded interesting and mailed back.

“I didn’t realise that it was a campaign supporting Palantir… Then, of course, they sent through the project plan, which I was surprised to receive because it had so much information in it”, Dr Patterson explained. “This was highly unusual… even more that they mentioned Good Law Project. I found that extraordinary”.

Patterson is the founder and CEO of EveryDoctor – a doctor-led campaign organisation focused on the NHS. She immediately flagged the emails and briefing document with us.

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This is how a plan drawn up by Palantir and Tory-linked PR agency, Topham Guerin, to secretly pay influencers to brief against Good Law Project over the Christmas holidays began to quickly unravel. We’ve been targeted because like NHS patients, cross-party MPs, civil liberties groups and other organisations such as the British Medical Association, we have raised concerns over Palantir winning a huge contract to run the NHS Federated Data Platform.

In approaching Patterson on behalf of Palantir and Topham Guerin, Disrupt didn’t seem to clock that Good Law Project previously collaborated with her and EveryDoctor to successfully challenge in the High Court the Government’s “illegal” VIP lane for politically connected PPE suppliers. And not just that – both EveryDoctor and Good Law Project are among dozens of organisations who’ve co-signed the ‘No Palantir In Our NHS’ campaign.

“We run a network of over 400,000 people who are NHS supporters. And so we’re pretty aware of people’s worries about Palantir, specifically”, Patterson told us. “And, you know, we were in correspondence with a lot of people who’ve been flagging their concerns to us. 

So here’s how Palantir and Topham Guerin’s botched plan was hatched in the first place. The marketing agency, Disrupt, reached out to would-be influencers with an introductory email mentioning neither Palantir or Topham Guerin’s involvement. The influencers were asked to specify their “fee expectations” for sending two tweets – a video and a follow-up tweet to “raise awareness about Palantir’s contract with the NHS”.

The emails outlined a campaign “which aims to clear up misinformation relating to some recent data privacy concerns that were shared in the UK press” and went on to say “As you may be aware, it was reported that private patient information may be at risk as a result of a new government contract being awarded.” 

Only those influencers who expressed an interest were sent a copy of the briefing document – headed “TG x Palantir” as follow-up. The briefing document targets Good Law Project specifically, and describes us as “a not-for-profit campaign organisation” who are “extremely critical of the contract being awarded to Palantir”. 

Quoted text from the 'Requirements' section included in Topham Guerin's briefing. Quoted text begins: "Requirements There is some misinformation being circulated online, largely by The GoodLaw Project. They are a not-for-profit campaign organisation and have been extremely critical of the contract being awarded to Palantir. They’re spreading fear that as a result of this contract being awarded, private patient data across the United Kingdom may be at risk. The client wants to use four to six influencers who are well-versed in tech, healthcare, government and data privacy to raise awareness of Palantir’s contract with the NHS, which will be one of the largest in the UK’s history, rebut the claims and educate around what it actually means." Quoted text ends.

Involving two comms agencies would have ramped up the costs – but would also have had the effect of keeping secret the involvement of Palantir and Topham Guerin from all except a small pool of influencers who had both been contacted – and then expressed an interest. 

When producing and publishing the content, influencers were told they must “keep the brand confidential and not tag Palantir.”

Quoted text from the 'Things to avoid' section of the Topham Guerin Briefing. Quoted text starts: "Things to avoid ● When the content is posted, please keep the brand confidential and not tag Palantir. ● If responding to comments, please refrain from mentioning the brand. Timings DEADLINE: 22nd December " Quoted text ends.

Another prominent social media figure – who agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity – said that when they were asked to take part in the campaign the name of Palantir was a red flag.

“The reason I recognised the name was because of their relationship with ICE in the US,” they explained, adding “So then I swiftly said ‘no’”, and advised the agency to be wary of dealing with Palantir”.

While it is not clear how many influencers were contacted as part of the plan, or what fees were agreed upon, the social media personality suggested that people could charge between £750-£2,000 for this type of content and that there would likely be those willing to accept such an offer. 

According to Patterson, this slipshod campaign raises broader concerns.

“At a time when the public have very low trust in politicians, and low trust in the media in general,” she said, “it’s not brilliant to find out that a campaign is being run where people are being paid to promote particular messaging on behalf of a company that has won a significant, enormous, government contract.

“We have deeply held concerns about Palantir, because of some of the comments made by its founder, Peter Thiel, about the NHS. And also because of yet wider implications on what’s going to happen with NHS data. And we’re supportive of any organisation trying to scrutinise those contracts and policies more closely.”

Palantir, Topham Guerin and Disrupt were approached for comment.

Good Law Project is attacked because of the work it does – and the threat it poses to the likes of Palantir and the Government. We can only do this because of donations from people like you, right across the UK. If you can, please support our work.