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Election debate: Conservatives criticised for renaming Twitter profile 'factcheckUK'

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Media captionThe Tory press office was rebranded as "factcheckUK" for Tuesday's live TV debate

Social networking site Twitter has said the Conservative Party misled the public when it rebranded one of its Twitter accounts.

The @CCHQPress account - the Tory press office - was renamed "factcheckUK" for Tuesday's live TV debate involving Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

After the debate, the account reverted to its original branding.

Twitter said it would take "decisive corrective action" if a similar stunt was attempted again.

But the firm does not appear to have taken any action over this particular incident.

"Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election," a spokesperson said.

"We have global rules in place that prohibit behaviour 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 UK Election Debate - will result in decisive corrective action."

The Tories were earlier criticised by genuine fact-checking agency Full Fact, which said in a statement: "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."

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly defended the rebranding.

He told BBC Newsnight: "The Twitter handle of the CCHQ press office remained CCHQPress, so it's clear the nature of the site."

Mr Cleverly added the decision to rebrand the account would have been made by the party's digital team, which he said operated within his remit.

He said he was "absolutely comfortable" with the party "calling out when the Labour Party put what they know to be complete fabrications in the public domain".

Reacting to the decision, the Labour Party tweeted: "The Conservatives' laughable attempt to dupe those watching the #ITVDebate by renaming their twitter account shows you can't trust a word they say."

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, said the ploy was "straight out of Donald Trump or Putin's playbook", adding the Tories were "deliberately misleading the public".

Twitter is a minority interest. Journalists are over-represented on this platform compared to other social media, creating a profound danger that they misinterpret what happens on Twitter as representative of the wider world.

Nevertheless, an important threshold has now been repeatedly breached by Britain's party of government, and Twitter is the site where it happened.

It is perhaps arguable that, like the doctored video of Sir Keir Starmer a fortnight ago, the re-branding of CCHQ as a fact-checking service falls into the broad category known as satire.

But that is a stretch. The effect will have been to dupe many unknowing members of the public, who genuinely thought it was a fact-checking service when it gave opinions on Jeremy Corbyn.

This is not to patronise voters, who are wise; rather, it is to recognise that in a world of information overload, what cuts through are stunts.

Which is why, ironically, in CCHQ this morning there will be younger staff who chalk this up as a victory.

Journalists thus face a dilemma: call out disinformation, and you play to the worst of social media, distracting from questions of policy; but ignore it, and the truth recedes ever further from view.

Twitter has policies regarding deceptive behaviour on the platform. The company said it can remove an account’s “verified” status if the account owner is said to be “intentionally misleading people on Twitter by changing one's display name or bio”.

Other users on the platform subsequently changed their display names to mock the move. Among them, writer Charlie Brooker, who tweeted: “We have always been at war with Eastasia”, a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Image copyright JONATHAN HORDLE / ITV

This latest controversial move on social media comes less than a month after the Conservative Party was criticised for posting a "doctored" video involving Labour's Sir Keir Starmer, in which the shadow Brexit secretary was made to look as if he met a question, posed by ITV's Piers Morgan, with silence.

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said the video, since taken down, was meant to be "light-hearted". The party later posted an extended version of the interview.

Full Fact, which is a charity supported by donations from the likes of Google, described the incident as "irresponsible".

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