A study by First Draft found that 88% of the Conservative Party’s most promoted Facebook adverts during the 2019 General Election contained claims that were flagged by fact-checkers. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats faced criticism for suggesting that they could win a ‘seat like yours‘ with graphs which lacked labels or sources. I will proceed to summarise some of the most prominent examples of fake news and deception from the last UK General Election.
# 1 – The UK’s most senior political journalists reported an attack that never actually happened.
On the 8th of December the Yorkshire Evening Post reported that due to overcrowding at Leeds General Infirmary, a four-year-old boy believed to have pneumonia was left with no choice but to lie on the floor. The following day, an ITV reporter attempted to show a photo of the boy to Boris Johnson. This distressing picture shows the boy resting on a pile of coats with an oxygen mask. The Conservative Leader refused to look, grabbing the interviewer’s phone and hiding it in his pocket.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, was met by protesters when he visited the hospital the same day to discuss this shocking situation. According to an unnamed source, a protester ‘punched‘ Hancock at the hospital. This was tweeted by some of the most prominent political journalists in the UK such as the BBC’s Laura Kuennsberg and ITV’s Robert Peston. Despite reputed journalists sharing this account, a recording of Hancock’s exit from the hospital proved that this was fake news. Following the release of the video, both journalists apologised, with Peston alleging that the source was ‘senior Tories‘.
Happy to apologiSe for earlier confusion about the punch that wasn’t a punch outside Leeds General – 2 sources suggested it had happened but clear from video that was wrong
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) December 9, 2019
It is completely clear from video footage that @MattHancock's adviser was not whacked by a protestor, as I was told by senior Tories, but that he inadvertently walked into a protestor's hand. I apologise for getting this wrong.
— Robert Peston (@Peston) December 9, 2019
#2 – NHS crisis conspiracy theory.
Following the December 2019 Election, on the 28th of January 2020, the right-wing blog Guido Fawkes tweeted: ‘Anyone else noticed that no children are sleeping on NHS floors now the election is over’. This tweet promotes a conspiracy theory that the crisis in the NHS is staged and that the scrutiny that the Prime Minister faced was brought about for the purpose of political point-scoring.
Anyone else noticed that no children are sleeping on NHS floors now the election is over?
— Guido Fawkes (@GuidoFawkes) January 28, 2020
#3 – Bots.
Bots on Facebook and Twitter copy and pasted a response to the Yorkshire Evening Post’s original report of hospital overcrowding, alleging that the boy had been placed there by his mother. This is evidently not true as the Chief Medical Officer acknowledged and apologised for the overcrowding at the hospital.
#4 – Fake fact-checkers.
During a televised head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in November, the Conservative Press Office Twitter account renamed itself FactCheck UK. Despite a change in the account’s name and branding, it retained the verified by Twitter tick. Conservative strategists thus appear to have intentionally misled fact-checking voters into believing that its tweets about the claims of the leaders were impartial and reliable.
As the results of the 2019 Election came in the CCHQ Twitter account revived the FactCheck UK branding to announce: ‘FACT: @BorisJohnson and @Conservatives the winners of #GeneralElection19‘.
— CCHQ Press #StayHomeSaveLives (@CCHQPress) December 13, 2019
#5 – Doctored videos.
The Conservatives also courted controversy on Twitter when they uploaded a doctored clip of Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Keir Starmer. It showed Starmer unable to answer a question on Good Morning Britain concerning Labour’s stance on Brexit. This is despite the MP providing an immediate and lengthy reply.