Election Watch 2019 #1: Lies, Leaks and Dead Squirrels

Connecting up some of the reporting about the use of misinformation and propaganda during the 2019 UK general election.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Over the past few weeks I've been compiling reporting from all over the web about use of social media in the UK general election. As we approach the big day, I thought it worth starting to share some of the highlights — or should that be lowlights?

Let's start with the big one: politicians are lying on an unprecedented scale. A significant amount of political ads would be ruled to be breaking advertising rules, if they were brand marketing.

It's sobering to discover that political advertising is held to lower standards that brand and product marketing. But I suppose it make sense, What politician that has lied their way into power is going to pass legislation making their own lives harder?

Election ads: ‘Indecent, dishonest and untruthful’
Campaigners say fact checks of political ads must become legally required after a “fake news” election.

First Draft have being taking a detailed look at the veracity of the claims put out by the main political parties. One does particularly badly:

Almost all of the Conservative Party’s recent Facebook adverts promote claims labelled as misleading by one of the platform’s third-party fact-checking partners, a First Draft investigation has found. Nearly 90% of the ads posted in the first days of December push figures already challenged by Full Fact, the UK’s leading fact-checking organisation.

Here's a handy video explaining how they're doing this:

Facebook, of course, does not fact check political adverts.

It's a fascinating quandary, isn't it? UK legislation does not require political adverts to be truthful. Facebook does not require political ads to be truthful. And so the only consequence for lying is a negative response from the electorate. Right now, the current version of the Tory party appears to have decided to lie its way into power, on the assumption that people would much rather vote for palatable lies than reality.

We'll know by the end of the week if they're right or not.

Thousands of misleading Conservative ads side-step scrutiny thanks to Facebook policy
Almost all of the Conservative Party’s recent Facebook adverts promote claims labelled as misleading by one of the platform’s third-party fact-checking partners, a First Draft investigation has found. Nearly 90% of the ads posted in the first days of December push figures already challenged by Full …

The Facebook fight over one marginal

This is a really interesting granular look at how money is being spent on campaigning in a key marginal. How money is being spent, by whom, and by which organisations is one of the things we need to understand better about how political campaigning operates on Facebook.

Pro-Labour Facebook pages swing into action in key marginal
Remain groups are helping Labour close the online funding war in Wales's capital

Political adverts disappearing from Facebook's ad library

However, we're going to struggle to be able to do so, if the ads quickly become inaccessible.

And, take a wild guess as to what is happening?

That's right:

Ads from the Conservatives, Brexit Party and Liberal Democrats, as well as local parties and candidates, no longer appear in Facebook's Ad Library, the tool set up by the tech firm to display political ads.
A search on the Ad Library for "Boris Johnson" now claims the Prime Minister's page has spent £181 since November 8. In fact, it has spent over £90,000.

Researchers fear ‘catastrophe’ as political ads ‘disappear’ from Facebook library
Sky News is an unrivalled, world class breaking news service with a spirit of innovation and a fresh approach to news broadcasting. As the UK’s first dedicated 24-hour news channel, Sky News has built a deserved reputation for being the first to break major news as well as offering insight and analy…

Black MPs targeted with racist misinformation

This is deeply concerning: abuse of ethnic minority politicians has been on the rise since the Brexit vote. Here, First Draft looks at how two black Labour MPs are being targeted with misinformation:

Misleading claims, edited videos and conspiracy theories acting as a ‘vehicle’ to undermine marginalised voices
In the lengthy battle over the UK’s future, one that often feels like a fight for the country’s soul, trust in institutions is on the wane. The Brexit stalemate has exacerbated the widespread distrust of politics, the media and the electoral system on both sides of the aisle. And as that distrust ha…

James Ball provides a lighter round-up of some of the more obvious tactics in use. What worries me, and perhaps should concern you too, is that given how many people are falling for these rather obvious pieces of trolling or propaganda — how much more effective are some of the more insidious tactics linked above?

From Google-jacking to dead squirrels: the online tricks of electioneering
With the election nearly upon us, here’s a handy guide to the tactics employed by politicians to influence voters

Obligatory Russia content

Any round up of misinformation news wouldn't be complete without a mention of Russia, would it? So, let's take a look at where Corbyn's NHS/USA leak came from: Reddit. And how did it get to Reddit?

[…]Reddit said: “We were recently made aware of a post on Reddit that included leaked documents from the UK. We investigated this account and the accounts connected to it and today we believe this was part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia.”
The site said it had found a “pattern of coordination” similar to that seen among social media accounts linked to Secondary Infektion, leading it to “use these accounts to identify additional suspect accounts that were part of the campaign on Reddit”.

Russia involved in leak of papers saying NHS is for sale, says Reddit
Leak was seized on by Corbyn as proof Tories want NHS to be part of trade talks with US

Polling day tomorrow, folks…

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.