Elections regulator issues campaign transparency warning after Tory Twitter rebrand

Written by Anahita Hossein-Pour and Alain Tolhurst on 21 November 2019 in News

Conservative press office styling itself as 'factcheckUK' draws heavy criticism from Twitter and onlookers

Credit:  Han Yan/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

The UK’s elections watchdog has urged Conservative campaigners to act "responsibly" after the party rebranded its Twitter account to ‘factcheckUK’ during a live TV debate.

The party sparked an angry backlash by changing the name, profile and background image of its @CCHQpress Twitter account and pushing out content challenging Jeremy Corbyn and praising Boris Johnson while the ITV leaders' debate was taking place on Tuesday evening.

As the debate wrapped up, it declared that the "factcheckUK verdict" was that Johnson had won.

The Electoral Commission has issued a warning to all parties, telling them stand up for transparency as the campaign continues.

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A spokesperson for the watchdog said: “Voters are entitled to transparency and integrity from campaigners in the lead up to an election, so they have the information they need to decide for themselves how to vote. The Electoral Commission seeks to deliver transparency to the public through the political finance rules; while we do not have a role in regulating election campaign content, we repeat our call to all campaigners to undertake their vital role responsibly and to support campaigning transparency.”

Twitter itself has already criticised the Tories, and warned the party any further attempts to “mislead” people will result in formal sanction.

In a statement, the social media site said it was "committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election".

A spokesperson added: "We have global rules in place that prohibit behaviour that can mislead people, including those with verified accounts. Any further attempts to mislead people by editing verified profile information - in a manner seen during the UK Election Debate - will result in decisive corrective action."

The independent fact-checking charity FullFact also condemned the online ploy, saying: “It is inappropriate and misleading for the Conservative press office to rename their twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ during this debate.

“Please do not mistake it for an independent fact-checking service such as FullFact.”

Conservative Dominic Raab came out in defence of the party, saying it had focused on challenging "nonsense” from Corbyn during the debate.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, the Foreign Secretary said: "I think the account was very clearly linked to CCHQ... but we’re rebutting the nonsense that systematically gets put out about the Conservative position so that voters know the truth."

Pressed on whether the party would use the tactic again, he added: "We’ll look at the advice from Twitter. But we will make no apology for having instant rebuttal of the nonsense and lies."

A Labour spokesperson said: "The Conservatives' laughable attempt to dupe those watching the ITV debate by renaming their twitter account shows you can't trust a word they say."


About the author

Anahita-Hossein Pour and Alain Tolhurst are, respectively, reporter and chief reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where versions of this article first appeared

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