Dodgy data, doctored videos and charts: how fake news is influencing the UK election
UK political parties have launched aggressive campaigns and misinformation is rife. Independent fact checker Full Fact and FT Alphaville examine how the three main parties have resorted to misleading information, from doctoring videos to dodgy data and bar charts.
Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Produced and edited by Daniel Garrahan
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BORIS JOHNSON: The stakes for this country have seldom been higher, and the choice has never been starker.
WILL MOY: We're monitoring the election pretty comprehensively. We're monitoring TV, we're monitoring online, we're monitoring the news debates, manifestos. The where we stopped and were really surprised was when the conservative party chose to masquerade as an independent fact checker during the first TV debate. That was a clear choice to make, and I think is a choice-- a step to cross a line.
JEMIMA KELLY: It also just shows us the level of aggression in the Tories' current strategy. They then tweeted things as if they were facts throughout the debate against Jeremy Corbyn, and at the end, pronounced Boris Johnson the winner. Either they were trying to fool people, or they were trying to get a reaction, making what they'd done go even more viral, because that's one of the strategies.
WILL MOY: I think we're seeing quite aggressive campaigning from all the political parties. Fairly consistent misrepresentation by political parties of other political parties' positions.
JEMIMA KELLY: The internet allows you to doctor videos and other content to make it seem like something has been said or something has been done that actually isn't true.
PIERS MORGAN: Why would the EU give you a good deal if they know that you're going to actively campaign against it?
WILL MOY: To see a political party manipulate a video of its opponent giving an interview to make it look like, in this case, Keir Starmer had no answer to a question, which he actually managed to answer in that interview, was a very surprising thing.
JEMIMA KELLY: And clearly, they had used a shot of him waiting to answer a question, and then put it after the question was asked. It was a deliberate ploy to make it look like Labour's Brexit minister didn't know what he was talking about.
WILL MOY: That is a sort of classic disinformation tactic. It's not the sort of thing you expect in a responsible democratic election.
We haven't seen the Labour party manipulating videos. We haven't seen the Labour party impersonating journalists in their election communications.
JEREMY CORBYN: 451 pages of unredacted documents and information.
WILL MOY: What we have seen is aggressive examples of them trying to misrepresent the position of other parties, certainly in the view of other parties. Labour is claiming that the Tories are going to do a trade deal with the US that will cost the NHS 500 million pounds a week. That's an extraordinarily large amount of money. That's equivalent to about a fifth of what we spend on health. The US would have to do a trade deal with us, where UK drugs costs go up 2.5 times to match what is currently paid in the US, and the British government would have to be willing to absorb extra costs of about 27 billion pounds to the public purse.
That's a pretty extraordinary claim, based on a very extreme scenario. We think it's unrealistic. Labour are, nonetheless, repeating it heavily to their voters.
WOMAN: You need to vote for the Liberal Democrats.
WILL MOY: Both the liberal Democrat party and for conservative party have been creating campaign leaflets that are dressed up to look as if their local newspapers. We think that's misleading. We think it's trespassing on independent journalism, which is vital in an election campaign. And we think it's inappropriate for political parties to do that.
WOMAN: We deserve better than what--
WILL MOY: There was a tactic from the Lib Dems we've seen repeatedly in local constituencies, which is bar charts of who can win here. This sort of claim that we're second or we're on the verge of winning possibly the most far fetched we've seen so far was using the results of a recent police and crime commissioner election as if it was some guide to how people will vote in the general election. To put that in context, 15% of people in that area had voted for the police and crime commissioner, and a general election turnout we would expect to be nearer 70% or 80%. So it's no guide whatsoever.
JEMIMA KELLY: The spotlight is on the Tories. I think they have taken a more aggressive strategy. If you look at some of their Facebook ads, a lot of them are targeting Jeremy Corbyn, fear based messaging in order to make people worried about what a Jeremy Corbyn led government would be like.
WILL MOY: If the most common tactic we've seen from Labour in this election is to look at what might happen in trade negotiations with the US, take the worst case scenario, and then tell that story as vividly as they can. The most common tactic we saw from the conservatives, particularly early in this election, was to imagine what Labour might do, despite the fact that they haven't published their manifesto, make something up, and then say it's going to cost you a fortune. They came up with essentially a completely false number, and then they got wall to wall coverage of it for a day. And journalists who are trying to honestly report on the campaign are in danger of being used to spread false information.
JEMIMA KELLY: The Tories launched a website called labourmanifesto.co.uk And so if you were to search Labour just before the launch of the manifesto, the top result would be this fake Tory website called labourmanifesto.co.uk.
WILL MOY: They were buying online adverts to get to the top. There's a lot of spend going into that. And there's not a lot of scrutiny about spending.
JEMIMA KELLY: Google have said that they're no longer going to allow political adverts that are targeted based on someone's supposed political leanings, but they are obviously still allowing this kind of thing that can manipulate potential voters.
WILL MOY: Elections are fought and won based on thin margins in many places, and it will be a relatively small number of constituencies and a relatively small number of votes that determine the outcome of this election. If some of those votes are retained by deception, then we have a problem.
JEMIMA KELLY: Yes, digital strategy will have an impact on the election outcome.
MARK ZUCKERBERG: Even if we wanted to ban political ads, it's not even clear where you draw the line.
JEMIMA KELLY: Facebook makes huge majority of its revenues from advertising. So if it was to stop all political advertising, as a lot of people are saying it should do, that would massively dent its revenues. The impetus is not going to come from big tech, it's probably not going to come from government. The impetus is probably going to have to come from some sort of external pressure, whether that be campaign groups or just the general public.
WILL MOY: And we have had almost two decades of warnings from the electoral commission and others that our election laws are out of date. That principals that are long established in our election law, like campaigning materials should be transparent and should say who they come from, although they apply offline, do not apply online, simply because we haven't updated election laws. We need to do that. We need to do it urgently.