21 November 2019 12:36

Fact-check UK

Conservatives' 'Fact Check' Twitter stunt may have been sinister but it was effective A wide range of authorities agreed something went seriously wrong when the Conservative press office rebranded itself as a factchecker on Twitter during the leader's debate on ITV. Full Fact, the UK's factchecking charity, called it "inappropriate and misleading", while the Electoral Commission said "we repeat our call to all campaigners to undertake their vital role responsibly". Twitter itself described it as an attempt "to mislead people", threatening "decisive corrective action" if it happened again. Image: The Conservative Campaign Headquarters press office changed its Twitter name to @factcheckUK But as none of them did anything more than complain, you have to ask whether their disapproval mattered - because our analysis shows that, in raw numbers, the strategy was effective. On Twitter, tweets talking about the ITV debate that used Boris Johnson's handle were viewed 2,645,726 times, while tweets using Jeremy Corbyn's handle were viewed 1,964,520 times.

Advertisement By contrast, tweets mentioning the handle of CCHQ generated 12,897,552 impressions - almost six times that of the prime minister. Twitter is a much smaller part of the web than it often seems, but, based on this admittedly small sample, the fake factchecker won the debate hands down. Most of those tweets were negative, but, again, it's not clear whether or not that matters. According to one popular theory, the entire purpose of stunts like this is to provoke outrage. Strong emotions make for shares on social media.

If you want to dominate a debate, nothing works better than anger. Image: The Tory and Labour leaders held the first TV debate of the campaign on ITV There's also - according to this theory - a more sinister motive. Stunts like this are calculated to distract the media. They generate noise in order to drown out more sustained critique. Whether or not that's true, it certainly seems to work.:: Listen to Campaign Unwrapped on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Spreaker As John Crowley, editorial director for First Draft, a not-for-profit organisation which tackles online disinformation and media manipulation, put it, the fake factchecker "provoked an emotional response" among journalists. As a result, Mr Crowley said, government ministers "were able to steer and dictate the conversation onto topics they wanted to speak about. "By contrast, the performance of Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson in the TV debate received far less scrutiny." Are new outlets getting baited by political parties? It seems highly likely that they are. That poses a big challenge to organisations that are built to cover and report. We can recognise the trap, yet walk headfirst into it all the same. The Brexit Election on Sky News - the fastest results and in-depth analysis on mobile, TV and radio Labour and Conservative candidates in Swindon have criticised the decision by Conservative head office to change of its Twitter account during the election debate on Tuesday. While Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn argued on ITV for an hour the Conservative Central Headquarters account was given the title Factcheck UK and its colours and background were changed. Many say this was an attempt by the party to mislead voters by presenting its arguments as facts sourced by an independent body. While condemnation by Labour candidates in Swindon might be expected, criticism even came from the Conservative candidate for North Swindon, Justin Tomlinson. He said: "While it is right to challenge Labour lies during the campaign it should be open and transparent, it was simply wrong to do it in this manner." His Labour opponent Kate Linnegar said: "During the leaders' debate, just as a voter was asking about the character and integrity of politicians, the Conservatives were yet again trying to mislead the public by rebranding their propaganda as an official fact check site. You couldn't make it up. George Orwell was on the button with 1984. We're living it." In South Swindon Labour candidate Sarah Church said: "It seems that the Conservatives have no limits on blatant falsehood in the public realm. Integrity and truth telling are necessary of those who seek to govern – these qualities are not on offer from Johnson's Tories." But Conservative candidate Robert Buckland defended the move. "This was a simple device to correct false claims from Jeremy Corbyn throughout the debate – which regrettably there were many of. It tweeted factually throughout the debate. There was no attempt to pretend it was not CCHQ. The banner image clearly marked it as 'from CCHQ', the handle of the page remained clearly marked as @CCHQpress, the website it linked to was Conservatives.com, the description of the account said factchecking Labour from CCHQ." Twitter has said it regards the stunt as an attempt to mislead the public and promised "decisive corrective action" if it happens again. The Liberal Democrat candidate in South Swindon Stan Pajak said: "The Conservatives are very politically astute and very clever, but this just isn't right.You can present yourself as a neutral when you are a party – it would be like the Lib Dems rebranding our account as 'Google' or something." Katie Critchlow is standing for the Lib Dems and Andy Bentley for the Green Party in North Swindon.