LONDON: Britain’s governing Conservatives on Wednesday robustly defended their decision to temporarily rename their Twitter account “factcheckUK” during a TV election debate, despite criticism from the social media network itself.
Foreign minister Dominic Raab said the move to rebrand the @CCHQPress account during Tuesday’s prime-time event was part of the “cut and thrust” of social media.
The move sparked condemnation from one fact check agency and political rivals, while Twitter warned any repetition in the future would lead to “decisive corrective action”.
Social media is one of the key battlegrounds ahead of the December 12 general election, which is dominated by Britain’s prolonged departure from the European Union.
During Tuesday’s debate, the first between Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the rebranded Tory Twitter account began firing off real-time rebuttals to Corbyn’s claims.
In a BBC interview, Raab defended the strategy, saying it was a way of providing “really good, instant rebuttal” to Labour’s “nonsense”.
He noted that the words CCHQ were underneath the factcheckUK brand, insisting: “No one who looked at it for more than a split second would have been fooled.”
Questions have been raised about misleading claims in this election, however, particularly given Johnson’s own personal elastic relationship with the truth.
Asked about whether voters would be concerned, Raab said he had been out campaigning and “no one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust”.
Trump, Putin playbook
A spokeswoman for Twitter said it was committed to facilitating “healthy debate” during the election.
“We have global rules in place that prohibit behaviour that can mislead people, including those with verified accounts,” she said.
“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.”
Britain’s independent fact-checking charity Full Fact said it was “inappropriate and misleading” for a political party press office to take on the moniker of a fact-checking site.
“They weren’t putting out accurate information, they were putting out party lines, unlike a serious fact-checker giving sources,” chief executive Will Moy told BBC radio.
Labour MP David Lammy said it showed “what disdain this party and this government has for the truth”.
He said: “The Electoral Commission must investigate and punish this blatant attempt to deceive the public.”
Tom Brake, of the smaller Liberal Democrats, said the tactic was “straight out of Donald Trump or Putin’s playbook”.
“The Tories are now resorting to deliberately misleading the public,” he added.
The Conservatives have previously been accused of putting out a misleading, edited video about Labour’s Brexit policy.