UK general election 2019: Fabricated tweets, pre-printed ballots and more fake newspapers

The BBC apologised for an edited clip and fake newspapers continued to roll off the political presses in week four of the election campaign.

With less than two weeks to go until the UK goes to the polls on December 12, disinformation continues to be a stubbornly persistent theme – and First Draft was on the case.

Our collaborative CrossCheck project’s investigations over the last seven days cover fabricated tweets attributed to Jeremy Corbyn, a “misleading” video by the national public broadcaster, councils fielding complaints from disgruntled teen voters and more disputed content in the form of fake newspapers, ‘parody’ websites and dubious graphics.

BBC edited TV debate footage of Prime Minister Johnson

On November 23, the BBC was accused of misleading the public after airing edited footage of the previous evening’s ‘Question Time’ TV debate. 

Many on Twitter, including prominent journalists, accused the BBC of purposefully editing out footage of audience members laughing when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked a question around trust in politics.

The footage shown in the broadcaster’s Saturday lunchtime news package, on November 24, and posted to the broadcaster’s streaming channels omitted 1.5 seconds of audience laughter and used a clip of Johnson giving a similar answer to a different question.

A video shared by Aaron Bastani, a political commentator and supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, shows the original clip followed by the edit. It has been viewed more than one million times.

In a reply to journalist Peter Oborne, who flagged the edit, the BBC Press Office said the footage was shortened for timing reasons

In a surprising move for the corporation, the BBC then released a statement of apology for the edit on Monday.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Although there was absolutely no intention to mislead, we accept that this was a mistake on our part, as it didn’t reflect the full reaction to Boris Johnson’s answer. We did not alter the soundtrack or image in any way apart from this edit, contrary to some claims on social media.”

Welsh party Plaid Cymru attacks Labour with misleading graphic about spending claims

A misleading graphic created by Welsh independence party Plaid Cymru surfaced on November 25 scrutinising the Labour Party’s spending plans.

Published on the party’s website, it compares Labour’s capital spending pledges to Scotland and Wales, stating Labour has pledged to invest £0 in Wales.

It also said the Labour Party “takes Wales for granted” and central government disregards Wales, spreading a common narrative used to criticise the three most popular parties.

Plaid Cymru’s graphic, shared as part of a post about Labour’s spending plans in Scotland and Wales, could mislead viewers. Composite by First Draft

While the text on the full webpage explains the £0 figure is reference to capital spending, not overall spending, the graphic shared on social media and as part of the post doesn’t make this explicit.

The Labour Party pledged to spend an additional £3.4 billion on the budget for Wales if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister.

Plaid Cymru’s post was mostly shared on Facebook by party representatives and has had more than 4,400 interactions on the platform. First Draft has approached Plaid Cymru for comment. The post is still on the site.

Councils falsely accused of excluding 18- and 19-year-olds with pre-printed postal ballots

CrossCheck partner Full Fact alerted First Draft to photos posted by Twitter users of postal vote slips which had the date of birth category partially filled. First Draft had been investigating different instances at the same time.

Local councils stood accused of excluding people born in the 21st century from postal ballots.

People from Lewisham, Bromley and other London boroughs raised the issue. However, Lewisham Council responded to one user saying: “There are different templates for voters born in 2000 and over.”

Lewisham’s Electoral Services Manager, Jamie Baker, told First Draft the purpose of pre-printing is designed to reduce the number of rejected postal votes due to people writing the day’s date instead of their date of birth. 

“The number of postal voters born in the 2000s has increased dramatically over the last year but we currently have no evidence that the pre-printing of 20 is causing an issue for them. The rejection rate for younger people is lower than the average,” he said.

Fake Corbyn tweet circulates after terror incident

On Friday November 29 a man stabbed and killed two people, as well as injuring three others, at an event for rehabilitating prisoners in London. He was chased onto London Bridge by civilians before being shot dead by police.

As the news and rumours spread across social media and the world sought to make sense of events, some people shared a fabricated tweet from Jeremy Corbyn which accused police of “murder”.

There is no evidence the tweets had been sent and some CrossCheck partners said the image may have originated on imageboard 4chan, which has become infamous for sharing misleading information during high-profile news events. First Draft is continuing to investigate.

Fake news(papers) continue to roll off the political press

Following the slew of party campaign materials masquerading as newspapers that First Draft uncovered last week, the News Media Association released a statement on Tuesday criticising political parties for their tactics.

The statement said local news brands “play a vital role in upholding democracy” and campaigning materials imitating newspapers “undermine and damage trust” in the news media and politicians.

But by Thursday, First Draft had uncovered fresh examples of party campaign materials of the ink-and-paper sort. The Conservatives published a newspaper in Stevenage claiming a Brexit deal was “agreed and ready to go”. First Draft has reached out to the party for comment.

Also, a new Lib Dem paper in Tunbridge Wells used its newsprint to lambast Labour.

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Dem leader, defended the use of newspapers as political advertising, saying the tactic was “as old as the hills”.

There are now at least 17 locations where political parties, including the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, have published such newspapers.

Check out First Draft’s round-up of disinformation and media manipulation from last week.

Ali Abbas Ahmadi and Matteo Moschella also contributed to this report.

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