Fact-checking the election: Boris Johnson quote disputed – and more suspicious Facebook ads

Fact-checking the election: Boris Johnson quote disputed – and more suspicious Facebook ads
These Tory Facebook ads contain unfounded claims

Week five of the UK’s general election campaign gave First Draft’s collaborative CrossCheck project a lot to dig into, writes Lydia Morrish.

From Channel 4 misquoting Boris Johnson to ‘Factcheck UK’ making a mysterious return, the final full week before the vote on December 12 was full of disputed content.

‘People of talent’ or ‘people of colour’? Boris Johnson quote disputed

On the morning of December 6, Channel 4 News posted a clip of Boris Johnson addressing a crowd from December 5, including the quote: “I’m in favour of having people come to this country, but I think we should have it democratically controlled.”

Twitter users started to criticise Channel 4 for not including what they thought he said – “people of colour”.

Channel 4 News subsequently deleted the original post and re-uploaded the video including the subtitle “people of colour”. That tweet, too, was deleted before Channel 4 then put out a further tweet saying “our earlier tweet was a mistake. We misheard and we apologise”.

The furore prompted fierce criticism of Johnson by the public and opposition politicians such as the Liberal Democrats’ Chuka Umunna, who reshared Channel 4’s video with the “people of colour” subtitle. His tweet commenting on the video has since been deleted.

The Prime Minister’s team strongly asserted that Johnson had said “people of talent”, according to BuzzFeed senior political correspondent Alex Wickham.

Conservative Party politician Jake Berry criticised Channel 4 for what he said was an “outrageous smear”, tweeting a clip of the video with clearer audio than many of the segments circulating on social media.

Thousands of misleading Tory ads side-step scrutiny thanks to Facebook policy

The Conservative Party hit the rocket boosters on their Facebook advertising campaign last week, launching almost 7,000 ads into the powder blue nethersphere, micro-targeted to their desired demographics and interest groups.

First Draft found almost 90% of these ads contained claims already labelled as misleading by Full Fact, Facebook’s official third-party fact-checking partner in the UK.

Facebook’s official policy on political ads, however, is that they are exempt from fact checks, meaning the misleading claims can circulate unchallenged.

Conservative promises to hire 50,000 nurses and build 40 hospitals were both pushed, despite being misleading, according to Full Fact. Inaccurate claims about income tax cuts and Labour’s spending plans were also included.

Senior Conservative Michael Gove said: “I’m not aware of any adverts that we publish that have been misleading.”

A Facebook spokesperson responded: “We don’t believe a private company like Facebook should censor politicians. Our approach is instead to introduce unprecedented levels of transparency so anyone can see every political advert and who it’s from.”

Full Fact chief executive Will Moy said: “This election candidates and campaigns on all sides are asking voters for their trust. Serious parties and politicians should not be recycling debunked claims or targeting individuals with bad information – we all deserve better than that.”

‘FactCheck UK’ is back and it’s anti-Conservative

A Facebook page created on December 5 and called “FactCheck UK” has been running ads attacking Boris Johnson.

The page mimics the Conservative Party press office’s imposter fact-checking service, which was widely criticised for misleading the public during the first televised leaders’ debate on November 19.

The ads, highlighting Johnson’s comments about single mothers from a 1995 Spectator column, link out to the Independent’s report on the article. They target only women from England and Wales in what seems like an attempt to warn mothers against the Prime Minister.

The Facebook Ad Library names Jamie Betts as the page promoter. The name and given address match a company called Paradigm Research Limited in Canterbury, registered to Companies House on April 11, 2019.

Betts is also named on ads for the page “Best for Brexit”, which also attack Boris Johnson. These ads predominantly target men.

Paradigm Research’s Betts denies that he posted the ads and says it is a mistake that his name and company’s address is listed.

First Draft has reached out to Facebook for more information.

One of the Best for Brexit ads claim Johnson is a “compulsive liar”, adding: “Fact checkers have confirmed – Boris Johnson lied over 300 times, in the last three months.”

While Johnson has come under scrutiny during the election for making disputed claims, First Draft could not find evidence of 300 lies.

The Prime Minister rejected the criticism he received for the Spectator column after it re-emerged in November. “I don’t think this is the time to talk about articles that were written a very long time ago,” he said.

Party publications got the mag treatment

First Draft found another example of an imposter newspaper: this time the missive is impersonating a tabloid magazine and appears to be paid for by the Welsh Conservatives.

Titled ‘You & Your Family’, the leaflet is in the style of entertainment magazines like Real People and Heat.

The headlines include: “Brexit done with a deal” and “an extra £1.9 billion for our Welsh NHS”.

The imprint at the bottom of the leaflet reads: “Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ”. This line is contained on the Conservative Party website, Facebook page and other printed election materials.

Twitter user Owen Williams, who shared photos of the magazine, told First Draft he received the leaflet in Vale of Glamorgan — the constituency of former Secretary of State Alun Cairns, who Mr Williams says is “notably absent from the literature”.

First Draft has contacted the Conservative Party for comment.

Fake coalition tweet

On December 5, Labour and SNP candidates shared a tweet from a fake and since suspended Twitter account claiming to have insider information about the Liberal Democrats approaching the Conservatives about a potential coalition.

The SNP’s Angus B Macneil and Labour’s Tulip Siddiq and Alex Sobel retweeted the untrue tweet, with Siddiq commenting “I hope no one is surprised by this” and Macneil adding “The Lib Dem disaster just gets worse at this election”.

Screenshots of the misleading tweet were shared on a Labour supporter’s Facebook, with almost 300 shares.

The fake ‘Max Gapes’ Twitter account, which shared the claim, is now suspended. It had shared anti-Lib Dem tweets before.