Twitter has warned that it will use “decisive corrective action” to combat any further attempts to mislead the public on its platform during the UK general election.
The warning comes as the Conservative Party faced criticism after one of its official Twitter accounts was rebranded as a fact-checking service during the ITV leaders’ debate last night.
The Conservative Campaign Headquarters press office account was renamed “factcheckUK” during the broadcast, offering commentary on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s statements and retweeting messages supporting Boris Johnson.
It also changed its logo and moved away from the traditional Conservative colour blue.
The @CCHQpress account is verified by Twitter, displaying a blue tick which is intended to denote that a user is genuine.
In response, Twitter has warned that rules are in place on the platform which prohibit behaviour that misleads the public.
“Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK General Election. We have global rules in place that prohibit behaviour that can mislead people, including those with verified accounts,” a spokesperson said.
“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.”
Twitter has been bolstering its efforts to block misleading information during the election campaign after earlier this month launching a new tool to enable people to report deliberately misleading details about the voting process.
But Will Moy, chief executive of independent fact-checking charity Full Fact, said Twitter should have done more.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They control the platform. I think if they had spoken to the Conservative Party and said this is a breach of our terms of service and the Conservative Party would have reverted back to its true branding and stopped misleading voters, so I think they had that option and I think they should have taken it.
“But the responsibility here is not on Twitter. A political party chose to impersonate an independent fact-checking service and let’s be clear, they weren’t putting out accurate information, they were putting out party lines, unlike a serious fact-checker they weren’t giving sources.”
Full Fact tweeted last night that the Conservative press office’s actions were “inappropriate and misleading”.
Alastair Reid, digital editor of First Draft, a non-profit fighting misinformation, wrote that the incident “means the UK has now joined an illustrious club of nations in which the ruling party sets up its own fact-checking service to push a party line”.
The Twitter display name was changed back to CCHQ Press shortly after the debate ended.
Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly told BBC’s Newsnight: “The Twitter handle of the CCHQ press office remained @CCHQPress so it’s clear the nature of the site.
“The reason we did that is because we were calling out the inaccuracies, the lies that were coming out during the debate. The NHS is not for sale.”
During the interview, Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis called the tactic “dystopian”.
Cleverly replied “I disagree” when told the party had been misleading the public, and said the change would have been an idea from the party’s “digital team”.
Asked if he knew about the change, Cleverly said: “The digital team have got a remit, I set that remit, they work within the remit and I’m absolutely comfortable with them calling out when the Labour Party puts what they know to be complete fabrications in the public domain – and we will call that out every time they do it.”
The decision was condemned by the Public Relations and Communications Association, which said professionals “have a duty to fight disinformation, not purvey it”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that after speaking to voters he has seen “no-one gives a toss about social media cut and thrust – what they care about is the substance of the issues”.
“And of course there’s a huge amount of skepticism about the claims of all politicians. What we’re not going to do is have this nonsense put around by Labour.”
After calls for an investigation by the Electoral Commission, a spokesperson for the organisation said: “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.
“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.”