A formal complaint has been sent to the Conservative Party over its rebranding of an official Twitter account as an independent fact checking service during a TV debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.
The move to change the name of the Tory press office account @CCHQPress to “factcheckUK” while Johnson and Corbyn went head-to-head on television has attracted widespread criticism that the public was deceived.
A formal letter of complaint has now been to sent to Tory Party HQ by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).
It was addressed to James Cleverly MP, chairman of the Conservative Party, and it accuses the Tories of “raising the spectre of state-sponsored misinformation and the deliberate undermining of truth.”
During the "FactCheckUK" stunt, when they re-tweeted someone it didn't show that it's coming from CCHQPress handle. If you're just scrolling through this is what you saw. pic.twitter.com/Y6ZXOuc0AJ
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) November 20, 2019
CILIP’s chief executive, Nick Poole, complained “in the strongest possible terms” about @CCHQPress being rebranded during the televised leaders debate. “Rarely has it been more important that all political parties respect the role of evidence and accountability in public life,” he wrote.
“Your party’s actions in misrepresenting itself as a legitimate fact checking service cross a line which ought never to be crossed – raising the spectre of state-sponsored misinformation and the deliberate undermining of truth and accountability which should have no place in British politics.”
Poole stressed that the complaint was not party political. CILIP has been campaigning since 2017 for all parties to make a clear commitment to evidence and accountability.
He said: “We believe that it is the right of every citizen to receive accurate and open information, and the responsibility of public authorities to ensure that they are providing it – including political parties. We are committed to supporting citizens in finding and making use of accurate information.”
Poole accused the Conservative leadership of failing to “act with honesty and probity and in a manner which upholds the reputation and values of the Conservative Party”. This was likely to diminish public trust, he said.
— Peston (@itvpeston) November 20, 2019
Full Fact, an independent fact-checking charity, said the party’s account should not be allowed to be used in this way and that it had complained to Twitter.
“It is inappropriate and misleading for the Conservative press office to rename their Twitter account factcheckUK during this debate. Please do not mistake it for an independent factchecking service,” Full Fact said.
"Why would a self-respecting, serious political party masquerade as something else to get its campaign points across?"—Our Chief Executive Will Moy was on @BBCnews today to discuss the Conservative Party's misleading use of Twitter last night.
Full clip: https://t.co/i9XxM54INK
— Full Fact (@FullFact) November 20, 2019
In a statement Twitter said the Conservatives had misled the public and it would take “decisive corrective action” if a similar stunt was attempted again.
“Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election,” said a spokesperson.
However, foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, defended the move on Wednesday and told BBC Breakfast that “no one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust”. Senior Conservative cabinet minister, Michael Gove, also refused to apologise for the rebranding on C4 News.
“Will you apologise for the Conservatives masquerading as a FactCheck service?”
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) November 20, 2019
At 10.10 on 29 November 2019 the headline was changed to remove the accusation of “state-sponsored misinformation” and the fourth paragraph was accordingly modified, following a complaint from a reader.