Tories criticised over ‘misleading’ Twitter account during election debate
The Tories have come under fire after rebranding one of their official Twitter accounts as a fact-checking service during Tuesday night’s televised election debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.
Twitter issued a sharp rebuke that “any further attempts to mislead people” would result in “decisive corrective action” after the party’s verified press office account was temporarily renamed “factcheckUK”.
The Electoral Commission – the official elections watchdog – also issued a warning saying voters were entitled to expect “transparency and integrity” from campaigners.
Senior party figures brushed off the controversy, saying it was part of their “instant rebuttal” mechanism to challenge “nonsense” claims made by Mr Corbyn during the debate that they were preparing to sell off the NHS.
However opposition parties accused the Tories of adopting the tactics of Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin to deliberately mislead the public.
The row coincided with an appeal from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to campaigners in the election to “honour the gift of truth”.
In a statement, Twitter said: “Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election.
“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.”
An Electoral Commission spokesman said: “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.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted it had been perfectly clear throughout that it was a Conservative Party account and that no one among voters “gives a toss” about the cut and thrust of social media.
“It was pegged to the CCHQ account. No one who looked at it for more than a split second would have been fooled,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“I knock on doors every day. No one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust. What they care about is the substance of the issues.
“Of course there is huge amounts of scepticism about the claims of all the politicians. What we are not going to do is have this nonsense put around by Labour.”
However shadow equalities secretary Dawn Butler said the account should have been suspended by Twitter once they became aware of what happened.
She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “They could have just suspended the account and taken it down and, to me, that would have been the better punishment.”
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.”