0414 GMT February 18, 2020
Rebranded to resemble a neutral fact-checking account complete with a big check mark, 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, AP reported.
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 and claiming voters would not be perturbed by “the social media cut and thrust.”
“We make no apology for having an instant rebuttal to all the nonsense and lies put out,” Raab told the BBC.
Twitter said in a statement that it had “global rules in place that prohibit behavior that can mislead people.” The company pledged to take “decisive corrective action” if there were any more attempts “to mislead people by editing verified profile information,” but did not censure the Tories for their account switch.
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 UK’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.’’
With the absence of law, campaigns have already been pressing the boundaries to get attention. The Conservative Party became embroiled in controversy earlier this month when it posted a video on social media containing a misleading edit of a television interview with Keir Starmer, a senior Labour Party figure. The video had been altered to show Starmer failing to answer a question about Brexit, when, in fact, he responded quickly. The chairman of the Conservative Party described the doctored video as lighthearted satire.