The Conservative Party deceived in plain sight when it changed its press office Twitter account name during last night’s Leader’s Debate to “factcheckUK”. Voters must remain vigilant to all attempts to mislead.

The elections watchdog has called for “transparency and integrity” but admitted it can take no action after a controversial move by the Conservative Party which saw it re-brand its official press office Twitter account as a verified, independent, fact-checking service during last night’s ITV debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. 

The account on the social media platform – @CCHQpress – has around 75,000 followers and brazenly declared that it was “fact checking Labour from CCHQ” when it changed its Twitter name and profile photo to “factcheckUK” at the start of the live debate at 8pm yesterday.

The “factcheckUK” account was then tweeting comments such as: “Jeremy Corbyn won’t be honest with the British people about his Brexit policy. If he wins we will have months of dither and delays followed by two referendums – one on Brexit and one on Scotland. We should #GetBrexitDone in January and move on #BackBoris.”

It was seen as a flagrant attempt to deceive voters in plain sight.

Shortly after changing its Twitter name back to “CCHQ Press” around 9pm, the account tweeted an image with Johnson’s photo, asserting that the “factcheckUK verdict” was that he had been the “winner” of the debate.

The Twitter account declared its “factcheckUK verdict” in favour of Boris Johnson

In another example of how our electoral laws are not fit for purpose in the digital age and the need for urgent reform, the Electoral Commission lambasted the lack of transparency demonstrated by the scam, but said that its remit only covers “political finance rules”. In effect, the watchdog admitted that it is powerless to intervene and that the Conservative Party has broken no electoral laws.

“Voters are entitled to transparency and integrity from campaigners in the lead up to an election, so they have the information they need to decide for themselves how to vote,” a spokesperson told Byline Times.

“The Electoral Commission seeks to deliver transparency to the public through the political finance rules; 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.”

This morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the dystopian tactics of his party by saying that “no one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust”.

But, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief advisor – who was the director of the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 EU Referendum and is believed to be heavily involved in this General Election campaign – has said that social media is the key political battleground and spent more than 70% of Vote Leave’s budget online. Some of this spend was found to be unlawful by the Electoral Commission. 

The Twitter account changed its name and photo back at the end of the Leader’s Debate

The Conservative Party Chairman, James Cleverly, also defended his party’s Twitter tactics. Last night, he said that the campaign’s “digital team” had the remit to decide to change the Twitter account’s name. 

“I’m absolutely comfortable with them calling out when the Labour Party put what they know to be complete fabrications in the public domain,” he added.

Earlier this year, the Tories recruited two young digital campaign gurus from New Zealand – Sean Topham and Ben Guerin. Chloe Westley, a former campaign manager for the libertarian Taxpayers’ Alliance think tank – set up by Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliott – heads up the Tories’ digital team.

Twitter said that the Conservative Party had misled people. “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.”

Earlier this year, Kyle Taylor, director of the Fair Vote Project – a campaign group set up in the wake of the electoral wrongdoing in the EU Referendum – warned that “there have been no significant regulatory changes to election law, data controls or digital platforms since the massive scale of electoral law-breaking came to light following the 2016 EU Referendum. There is no way – right now – to ensure any election would be truly free and fair”.


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