The Conservatives have been criticised for setting up a fake “fact-checking” service to endorse Boris Johnson during Tuesday night’s televised election debate.
The party’s press office rebranded its Twitter account as ‘factcheckUK’ during the programme and removed any obvious mention of the party from its username and images and profile – before using the platform to tweet endorsements of its own positions.
Bona fide fact-checking organisations condemned the move as “inappropriate” while a top EU politicians said it amounted to “dystopian” disinformation of the kind seen in authoritarian states.
“Dystopian. Not even [Hungarian far-right prime minister Viktor] Orban or the Polish PiS [ruling party] would dream this up, let alone do it,” said Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator.
The account, usually used for press releases from Conservative Party HQ, normally bears the party’s logo and branding as the account of the “Official Conservative Party Press Office”.
However, as the debate started Tory staffers replaced the party’s logo with a purple tick, while describing itself as an account “fact checking Labour from CCHQ”.
Among supposed “facts” represented on the account are claims that Boris Johnson has negotiated a “great new deal”, that he has “kept his promises on Brexit” – and that Jeremy Corbyn’s assertion there will be no deal between his party and the SNP is a “lie”.
And as the debate ended the account declared Boris Johnson the “clear winner” under the heading “factcheckUK verdict”.
The rebrand was reversed 20 minutes after the debate came to a close.
Full Fact, a charity organisation dedicated to checking the veracity of claims in the political sphere, said: “It is inappropriate and misleading for the Conservative press office to rename their twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ during this debate”, they wrote in a tweet imploring the public not to “mistake it for an independent fact checking service”.
In response a number of accounts changed their username and image to match the Conservative party offering while sharing outlandish false claims.
Charlie Brooker, the writer behind dystopian TV series Black Mirror, implied the move by the party was Orwellian by tweeting: “We have always been at war with Eastasia” in reference to the book 1984.
The Labour party said in a statement: “The Conservatives’ laughable attempt to dupe those watching the ITV debate by renaming their Twitter account shows you can’t trust a word they say.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “This is straight out of Donald Trump or Putin’s playbook. Not content with excluding the voice of Remain from this debate, the Tories are now resorting to deliberately misleading the public. People know they can’t trust a word that Boris Johnson or the Conservatives say. The country deserves better.”
A number of political fact checkers, including Full Fact and The Independent’s Infact, have attempted to make sense of the claims made ahead of the 12 December election.
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