Britain’s Conservative Party was accused yesterday of trying to deceive voters by changing the name of its press office Twitter account to “factcheckUK” during a televised election debate between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Rebranded to resemble a neutral fact-checking account, it posted a series of tweets supporting Johnson during Tuesday’s debate. It later reverted to the name “CCHQ Press” and restored the party logo to its profile.
Organizations that seek to combat political misinformation cried foul.
“It was an attempt to mislead voters,’’ Will Moy, chief executive of the London-based fact-checking website Full Fact, told the BBC. “And I think it is inappropriate and misleading for a serious political party to behave that way.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the party’s actions, saying the Twitter account was clearly linked to the Conservatives.
“We make no apology for having an instant rebuttal to all the nonsense and lies put out,” Raab told the BBC.
Twitter pledged to take “decisive corrective action” against similar strategies in the future. But the manipulation of the account in a high-profile event put the issue of the rise of digital campaigning squarely in the public eye.
All political parties are devoting much of their campaign spending to the digital realm as they battle to win the U.K.’s Dec. 12 election.
Despite parliamentary reports urging new regulations to combat misinformation or regulate the way digital ads are targeted at voters, officials in Britain have made no significant changes to laws governing online ads, social media and election disinformation.
In a reflection of the confusion, the Electoral Commission, which regulates campaign finances, issued a statement warning that “voters are entitled to transparency and integrity from campaigners in the lead-up to an election.’’ Critically, however, it pointed out that it doesn’t have “a role in regulating election campaign content.’’ Danica Kirka & Jill Lawless, London, AP