After the TV debate, the account was reverted to its original name and logo, but throughout the TV broadcast, the only hint of the writers’ affiliation was the account’s bio that read, “Fact checking Labour from CCHQ” — the Conservative Campaign Headquarters’ acronym.
Discovering that affiliation would have been difficult for users who encountered the account’s messages in their own timelines, rather than clicking on the account profile.
In a response, Twitter said it would take “decisive corrective action” against similar attempts in the future.
“It is inappropriate and misleading for the Conservative press office to rename their Twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ during this debate,” one of Britain’s premier fact-checking sites, Full Fact, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Conservative Party member and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab attempted to defend the change on Wednesday, telling the BBC that “we want to make it clear that we’re holding Labour to account for the nonsense that they systematically and serially put out.”
Raab added that voters had bigger issues to worry about than the account rebranding. “No one gives a toss about social media cut and thrust,” he told the BBC.
But the move came amid concerns about foreign meddling in previous elections in Britain and elsewhere. Illegitimate sites or social media accounts posing as credible media outlets have been a particular focus of authorities trying to prevent meddling.
There have also been concerns about disinformation campaigns by political parties accused of sharing a similar ideology as the countries primarily suspected of interfering in Western elections. Germany’s far-right and pro-Russian Alternative for Germany party, for instance, announced last year that it would set up a 24/7 newsroom operation to bypass established media outlets, even though no such service was ever begun.
Media watchdogs have also watched with growing concern how moderate parties are blurring the lines between journalism and PR. Among them, Germany’s Social Democrats rebranded their PR apparatus as a “newsroom."
The British Conservative Party’s “factcheckUK” rebranding on Tuesday appeared to go even further than those efforts, however, because it was perceived as a deliberate effort to conceal the account’s political affiliation.