Ban disinformation techniques in UK elections

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During the UK General election (2019), the British public became the victims of a serious disinformation campaign which threatened our democracy.

  1. A Twitter account belonging to the Conservative party was edited to resemble a fact checking website during a televised debate
  2. A video of Keir Starmer was edited by the Conservative party to look like he could not answer a question
  3. A website was set up containing a fake Labour party manifesto, and was boosted by payment to Google so that it appeared at the top of the search rankings
  4. Jeremy Corbyn shared a leaked document linked to a Russian disinformation campaign
  5. Boris Johnson regularly repeated various claims which had been fact-checked and proven to be false
  6. A series of sock or bot accounts on Twitter tried to discredit a true story about a young boy with suspected pneumonia who couldn't be offered a bed in hospital
  7. 88% of the Conservative party's adverts on social media were found to be misleading
  8. 7% of the Labour party's adverts were found to be misleading
  9. The Liberal Democrat party misrepresented facts presented by a bar chart.

Disinformation and fake news was so prevalent during the election that many people stopped looking for the truth, assuming that they couldn't trust anything they read. Trust in politicians has hit rock bottom.

People still believe in the saying, "There's no smoke without fire". Something being said, even if immediately discredited, sticks. Those who want to believe the lie will repeat it, those who don't will challenge it. Either way, it becomes a talking point which distracts from the truth.

Trying to untangle fact from fiction has become too complicated for the average voter, meaning empty sloganeering and obvious smear tricks were easier to consume and more influential than they otherwise might have been.

Jenni Sargent, the managing director of First Draft, said disinformation campaigns seen in the British election appear designed to be easily discovered, provoke outrage and distract the news media. She said that whenever journalists questioned Conservative Party representatives about the questionable tactics, they used the opportunity to criticize opponents in the Labour Party. (New York Times, 12/12/19)

Similarly, trust in the media and the press is in a bad position. The BBC has come under serious criticism for failing to maintain its impartiality after being caught editing footage, failing to properly vet audience members at debates and a series of errors involving political editors and interviewers.

The winner of elections should not be determined or even influenced by who has put the most money into deceiving and manipulating voters.

We believe that in order to demonstrate respect for voters, all politicians should actively engage in a serious and urgent discussion in parliament over the following recommended ideas:

  1. A discussion of whether Purdah is still viable
  2. The different rules surrounding broadcast, print and online media
  3. A review into social media's ability to undermine fact
  4. A pledge from all political parties to no longer engage in disinformation campaigning
  5. A pledge to no longer pay for the services of disinformation campaign managers and teams
  6. An investigation into an independent fact-checking body whos findings during elections have immunity from Purdah to ensure news outlets can, without restriction, report on the truth

If politicians cannot agree on a course of action which satisfies the voters, we will consider further action, but we have faith in our politicians that they respect democracy and will agree to cease this democracy damaging behaviour.