At a time when research shows social media users struggle to distinguish between fake and real information, stunts like the "FactcheckUK" rebrand are nothing less than irresponsibleby Tola Onanuga / November 20, 2019 / Leave a comment
As the election’s first televised leaders’ debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn got underway, CCHQ made the brazen decision to rebrand its Twitter account as Factcheck UK. Tweets sent from the account throughout the debate denounced most of Corbyn’s proposed policies and praised Johnson’s.
This isn’t funny or “banter”. It’s disingenuous and grim. pic.twitter.com/6itWrLcTX0
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) November 19, 2019
It’s fair to say the decision did not go down well. Twitter users and political opposition members reacted in fury and bewilderment. Some saw it as a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, with Labour MP David Lammy saying it showed the party’s “disdain for the truth.”
The Conservative Party press office @CCHQPress rebranding themselves as "FactCheckUK" shows what disdain this party and this government has for the truth.
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) November 19, 2019
There was also strong condemnation from genuine fact-checking organisations such as Full Fact, which was rightly perplexed by the decision and urged people not to confuse the account for an independent fact-checking service.
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, @FactCheck or @FactCheckNI
— Full Fact (@FullFact) November 19, 2019
But confusion seemed exactly what the Conservatives were hoping to achieve. A fact-checking operation badged as CCHQ—with the same tweets sent without changing the account’s branding—was possible, yet the decision was made to change not only the name of the account but also its header and profile image. Why would the party feel the need to rebrand itself in such a way if there was no attempt to mislead?
When questioned about the decision after the debate, the party’s chairman James Cleverly tried—in the most unconvincing manner possible—to defend the move.
.@maitlis: “This is the Conservative press office pretending to be a fact-check service… you were misleading the public.”@JamesCleverly: “We were calling out the inaccuracies that were coming out during the debate"https://t.co/tyeoNZZw7X#Newsnight | #GE2019 | #ITVDebate pic.twitter.com/qOIxTWQa8Z
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) November 19, 2019
He told BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis that because the account’s Twitter handle remained “CCHQ press,” the nature of the site was clear and suggested that the rebranding idea came from his digital team.
In response, Maitlis called the decision “dystopian”—and it’s hard to disagree. Why should UK voters have to put up with such underhand and unethical actions by politicians? It’s not as if they don’t already have enough online misinformation to contend with.
Nearly half of social media users who share articles have passed on fake news, according to a study by Loughborough University. This is particularly a problem during elections when undecided voters seek out more information and struggle to distinguish fact from fiction.
Cleverly seem to imply that the Twitter account rebranding was part of an innovative digital strategy. Perhaps the party saw it as a way to connect with younger Britons, who are more likely to follow the debate on social media…