Tech

Britain's ruling political party masqueraded as a fact-checker on Twitter during a TV debate

Key Points
  • Britain's Conservative Party renamed an official Twitter account to "factcheckUK" during a TV debate between the two main party leaders.
  • Twitter called the stunt an attempt to "mislead" people, adding that any similar actions in the future would result in "decisive corrective action."
  • The microblogging platform is set to ban political advertising from Nov. 22, ahead of elections in the U.K. and U.S.
In this handout image supplied by ITV, Prime Minister Boris Johnson answers questions during the ITV Leaders Debate at Media Centre on November 19, 2019 in Salford, England.
Jonathan Hordle | ITV via Getty Images

The U.K.'s Conservative Party renamed one of its official Twitter accounts to "factcheckUK" Tuesday night, masquerading as a political fact-checking service in the midst of a televized pre-election debate.

Britain's ruling political party also temporarily replaced its profile picture with a check mark, seemingly in an effort to make social media users assume it was a verified fact checker. Its Twitter handle, @CCHQPress, was however unchanged, and its cover photo stated it was from the communications arm of the Conservatives.

The account is followed by over 76,000 people. James Cleverly, chairman of the Conservatives, defended the move in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday.

"The reason we did that is because we were calling out the inaccuracies, the lies that were coming out during the debate," Cleverly told BBC Newsnight, adding that he disagreed the party was misleading the public.

It's one of the first tests for the Silicon Valley microblogging platform as it looks to ban political advertising in a strategy outlined by CEO Jack Dorsey. The Twitter chief said last month that the social network would enforce such a ban from Nov. 22. The move has put pressure on Facebook to do the same ahead of elections in the U.K. and U.S., but boss Mark Zuckerberg instead defended its policy on political ads.

Twitter called the stunt an attempt to "mislead" people, adding that any similar actions in the future would result in "decisive corrective action."

"Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the U.K. general election," a spokesperson for the firm said in an emailed statement to CNBC. "We have global rules in place that prohibit behavior 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 U.K. Election Debate — will result in decisive corrective action."

According to The Guardian, the party's press account put out pro-Conservative tweets in the middle of a TV debate between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. The account has since reverted to its normal name and branding.

U.K. voters are set to head to the polls on Dec. 12.