Twitter has said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party misled the public by altering the name of one of its accounts on the social media platform to mimic a fact-checking service during a televised election debate.
The Conservative Campaign Headquarters press office’s account, followed by nearly 76,000 Twitter users, changed its name to “factcheckUK” from its usual “CCHQPress” and switched its avatar to a white tick against a purple background.
It made the change on Tuesday while Johnson was debating Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, on live television weeks before the United Kingdom’s December 12 election. The rebranded account tweeted graphics supporting statements from Johnson as “True” and criticised others from Corbyn.
Twitter said it would take “decisive corrective action” if a similar stunt was attempted again, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
“Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election,” a spokesperson for the social media giant was quoted as saying.
“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.”
Full Fact, a genuine fact-checking charity, criticised the Conservatives’ move.
“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 fact checking service,” it said.
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 fact checking service such as @FullFact, @FactCheck or @FactCheckNI
— Full Fact (@FullFact) November 19, 2019
Labour meanwhile blasted the name-changing as a “scam”, saying that it showed the Conservatives could not be trusted in government.
Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly defended the move, however. “We made it absolutely clear it is a Conservative Party website … checking the claims” of Corbyn, he said.
The account description during the debate was “Fact Checking Labour from CCHQ”. After the debate finished, the account reverted to its regular Conservative Party branding.
Prior to the controversy, Twitter had pledged to make it easier to report misleading information about the voting process in the upcoming election.
The company said last month it would stop all political advertising, making the poll one of the first major tests for the new policy.