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Twitter condemns Conservatives over ‘factcheckUK’ stunt, but stops short of punishment

Last night’s leaders’ debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn may not have seen any knock-out blows, but it has seen Twitter deliver a dressing down to one side.

For the duration of the ITV debate, the CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) Twitter account renamed itself “factcheckUK”, and replaced its logo and banner with a different colourscheme and branding, while maintaining its ‘verified’ tick. It then proceeded to rubbish claims made by Jeremy Corbyn in real time, and retweet positive tweets about the prime minister.

Although the name and logo has now returned, this is an idea of the kind of content the @CCHQPress account was tweeting during the debate:

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In 2018, Twitter began to lock accounts if they changed their name to “Elon Musk”, but the company decided tough words were enough on this occasion. “We have global rules in place that prohibit behavior that can mislead people, including those with verified accounts,” a Twitter spokesperson told the BBC. “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.”

Independent fact-check charity Full Fact was one of the first to call the Conservative Party out on Twitter, tweeting: “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.” This message alone was retweeted over 18,000 times, while messages from the @CCHQPress rebrand maxed out in the low hundreds, suggesting something of a backfire.

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Despite this, Conservative Party chairman James Cleverley was unrepentant when challenged on the move on Sky News later that night. “We made it absolutely clear it is the Conservative party website. We were checking the claims put forward,” he said. 

Social networks are very much in the spotlight this election, with Twitter banning all political adverts, and Facebook revealing it won’t be doing any fact checking of campaign adverts.

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