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The U.K. Conservative Party–also known as the Tory Party–temporarily rebranded one of its official Twitter accounts on Tuesday night, causing an uproar online.
The press office account, which has more than 77,000 followers and held the username “CCHQ Press,” was changed to make it appear as a fact-checking account, with the new username of “factcheckUK.” The avatar was also changed from the party logo to a checkmark, and the bio was changed to read, “Fact checking Labour from CCHQ.”
The changes were made during a televised debate between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, who is the leader of the Labour Party.
The account churned out pro-Conservative Party “facts” throughout the debate–including declaring Johnson the “clear winner” of the debate–by putting the word “FACT” at the beginning of the tweets.
During a Wednesday appearance on BBC Breakfast, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab responded to the criticism, saying that “no one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust.”
Dominic Raab @DominicRaab channelling Master Dominic Cummings today.— Dr Lauren Gavaghan (@DancingTheMind) November 20, 2019
"No-one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust"
This is now the calibre & professionalism shown by Conservative politicians on live tv. #GE2019 #FactCheckGate pic.twitter.com/rFbsKu85dm
A Twitter spokesperson told the Guardian in a statement that the Conservative Party misled the British public.
“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 spokesperson told the newspaper. “Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election.”
People are expressing outrage over the move and are even urging Twitter to suspend the account, which has now been changed back to its original form.
“Twitter should ban @CCHQPress from their site. It’s not a fact check service, it’s a disinformation machine that would make Vladimir Putin blush,” Member of Parliament David Lammy tweeted.
What is even more shocking than the pretence and deceit of #FactCheckGate is the number of Tory MPs who think it was absolutely fine to deliberately mislead voters during the Leaders' Debate - Raab, Cleverly and just now Suella Braverman... 🤦♀️#wato https://t.co/ZfyLrafNEh— The Last Tactical Girly Swots to join Tw❄️tter (@TheLastPersont2) November 20, 2019
"Nothing is true, everything is possible."— Cornwall for Europe #FBPE (@Cornwall4EU) November 20, 2019
Same strategy of distraction and confusion as deployed by senior Putin adviser Vladislav Surkov.
He'll be very well acquainted with several generous Russian donors to the Conservative Party.#FactCheckGate #ReleaseTheRussiaReport https://t.co/dLOyaTCOsh
Even the Electoral Commission allegedly expressed its disapproval in response to a citizen’s report.
“Voters are entitled to transparency and integrity from campaigners in the lead up to an election, so they have the information to decide for themselves how to vote. The Electoral commission seeks to deliver transparency to the public through 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,” the commission allegedly wrote.
Many are dubbing it “FactCheckGate.”
“The thing about #FactCheckGate is that the Conservatives used a verified account, this is supposed to be a seal of authenticity of this platform, and if @Twitter permit them to abuse it, it will be revealing itself to be partisan… #GE2019,” Twitter user @multistable wrote.
Others couldn’t get over that Twitter allegedly suspended English actor Ralf Little for mocking the factcheckUK account, but not the factcheckUK account itself.
“The government mislead the electorate and break electoral rules. Twitter caution them. Ralf little mocks @CCHQPress by pretending to be them, his account gets locked. This is a slippery slope. we have seen elsewhere what happens when the state controls the media#FactCheckGate,” Twitter user @dr_alex_gates wrote.
The thing about #FactCheckGate is that the Conservatives used a verified account, this is supposed to be a seal of authenticity of this platform, and if @Twitter permit them to abuse it, it will be revealing itself to be partisan... #GE2019— Rick Dove 🕊⚫️🌹💚 (@multistable) November 20, 2019
The government mislead the electorate and break electoral rules. Twitter caution them.— Dr Alex Gates #voteNHS 🌹 (@dr_alex_gates) November 20, 2019
Ralf little mocks @CCHQPress by pretending to be them, his account gets locked
This is a slippery slope. we have seen elsewhere what happens when the state controls the media#FactCheckGate
Yes. This.— Talis Kimberley-F🌑🕷 (@taliskimberley) November 20, 2019
Oi, @Twitter - taking action against individuals like Ralf Little while leaving the Tories to lie & deceive, via yr platform, in an election period? Sort it out, please. Or your *product* - we, the users - will decide Twitter isn’t worth it anymore#FactCheckGate https://t.co/ewJ8yrUdtP
Now, Twitter is being filled with parody accounts of the short-lived factcheckUK account.
“This is not a deliberate attempt to mislead you, it’s not our fault if people don’t realise what this account really is,” one parody account wrote. “To be honest you shouldn’t be voting for us anyway, We constantly lie about privatisation of the NHS, We don’t care about the poor or homeless #FactCheckGate”
This is not a deliberate attempt to mislead you, it's not our fault if people don't realise what this account really is— CCHQPRESS (@UKPP2K16) November 20, 2019
To be honest you shouldn't be voting for us anyway, We constantly lie about privatisation of the NHS, We don't care about the poor or homeless #FactCheckGate
Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org