How has disinformation affected the 2019 General Election?

Posted On: 
9th December 2019

Dods Monitoring’s Guinevere Poncia considers if rising public awareness has created an opportunity for action to safeguard electoral integrity.

Half-truths and manipulation –steadfast features of politics – are now amplified, writes Guinevere Poncia.
Credit: 
PA Images

Politicians have always trod a careful line between truth and spin. However, with the internet firmly established as a central battleground in elections, modern political disinformation is a more insidious force. Half-truths and manipulation –steadfast features of politics – are now amplified, ‘algorithmed’ and targeted on an unprecedented scale. 

The Cambridge Analytica scandal fuelled increased concern and scrutiny of the platforms facilitating disinformation. To tackle this, Twitter has gone so far as to ban political adverts from its platform. Google followed, announcing that it would significantly reduce how accurately ads could be targeted at would-be-voters.  

Instances of disinformation in this election have ranged from the ridiculous to the sinister. Just two weeks into the campaign, Jo Swinson found herself having to deny she enjoys firing stones at squirrels after a bizarre story went viral across Twitter, Facebook and Medium. 

Party Conduct

Whether interpreted as ham-fisted or malevolent, the actions of mainstream parties during the election regarding disinformation has been a source for concern. 

Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) has been accused of doctoring videos of shadow cabinet members and BBC journalists, and infamously rebranded their Twitter account as a fact-checking service during a live TV debate. The move attracted criticism from across the political spectrum, with the Liberal Democrats branding it “straight out of Donald Trump or Putin’s playbook”. 

Whilst politicos and journalists are over-represented on Twitter compared to other social media networks, public reaction to the ploy raised important questions concerning the lines between purported satire and genuine misinformation.   

Critics argue that CCHQ’s methods are straight out of Dominic Cummings’ 2016 playbook and point to the Leave campaign’s contention that Turkey was joining the EU as a classic example of voter manipulation. 

In the final 10 days of this election, the Conservatives have ramped up spending on social media. After testing attack lines in the early weeks of the campaign, the party are now deploying those that have proved most effective as we approach polling day.   

Whilst this may be brushed off as astute political manoeuvring, many have argued that the controversial digital campaigning techniques set a worrying precedent and serve to weaken the UK’s position in combatting disinformation from malignant state and non-state actors. 

Fighting back 

The actions of mainstream parties have not gone unchecked…To read the full article, and an election lookahead, click HERE.