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Tories censured for sharing misleading information on social media five times more often than Labour

Exclusive data shared with The Independent has shown that the prime minister was community-noted on Twitter 25 times over the past year

Zoe Grunewald
Saturday 23 March 2024 14:48 GMT
Sir Keir Starmer has called on the prime minister to set the date for a general election

The Conservative Party is almost five times more likely to be censured on social media for sharing false or misleading information online than Labour, new research has claimed.

Top government accounts, including the prime minister, cabinet ministers and the official Conservative Twitter/X feed have accrued almost five times as many community notes as the opposition, a campaign group has said.

A fact-checking feature was made available on Twitter/X in the UK in January last year and allows users to add context or clarifications below posts that contain false or misleading information. Contributors can leave notes on any post and if enough contributors from different points of view rate that note as helpful, the note will be publicly shown.

In total, 73 posts from government party accounts had community notes attached, compared to 15 from official opposition accounts (PA)

Research commissioned by pro-European campaign group Best for Britain examined the number of community notes accrued by all members of the cabinet and shadow cabinet, as well as their official party accounts, on Twitter/X.

In total, 73 posts from government party accounts had community notes attached, compared to 15 from official opposition accounts.

The worst offender was the official Conservative Party account which was noted 26 times on posts, including allegedly manipulated videos, false claims about the opposition leader and misleading statements about the economy.

One post that said the economy was “outperforming expectations” had a community note attached which said “UK GDP fell last quarter, compared to an estimate of zero per cent, so it is not outperforming any expectations.”

Another post claimed that Sir Keir Starmer “called for the monarchy to be abolished” in 2021, but the community note pointed out that Sir Keir said in 2005 that he “used to propose the abolition of the monarchy”.

A close second was the prime minister himself who – despite promising “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” – was pulled up by social media users 25 times in just over a year.

Rishi Sunak’s posts were flagged nine times since the start of 2024 and five in the first week of January alone, where he claimed that the government had cleared the asylum backlog, took credit for falls in inflation and claimed the government had cut taxes.

Most recently, Mr Sunak said the spring budget would bring “lower taxes”, while the community note pointed out that the accompanying OBR forecast said that taxes are actually increasing to 37.1 per cent of GDP by 2028/29, four percentage points higher than they were before the pandemic.

By contrast, Sir Keir’s account has received four community notes in the same period, the majority of which related to last year’s local elections, and the official Labour Party account received seven.

Most recently, the Labour leader said it was “36 years since the first Black MPs were elected”, while the attached note pointed out that James Townsend was a Black MP, first elected in 1772.

The chancellor Jeremy Hunt, home secretary James Cleverly, defence secretary Grant Shapps and leader of the commons Penny Mordaunt also all received more community notes than their counterparts in the shadow cabinet.

The only shadow cabinet minister who received more community notes than their Conservative counterpart was David Lammy, receiving two to David Cameron’s zero. Mr Cameron has been in the Cabinet for four months.

David Cameron is the only cabinet minister to have less community notes than his shadow counterpart David Lammy (PA)

The results come in the wake of a damning Edelman Trust Barometer report that showed the UK has the steepest decline in public trust globally. Trust in the government has fallen to 30 per cent – a 15-point fall since 2021.

Campaigners say the governing party’s habit of sharing misleading information on social media is further undermining public trust in politics.

Naomi Smith, CEO of Best for Britain warned that the findings “shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially in an election year where lack of trust can feed dangerous populism”.

She added: “A government that the public can’t trust to act with integrity and transparency – both essential for liberal democracy – is a government that shouldn’t be in power. We need a general election and our polling shows that the public want it now.”

Labour and the Conservatives have been approached for comment.

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