Ministers today flatly dismissed a furious backlash over Tory HQ changing its Twitter name to ‘factcheckUK’ during the TV election debate.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the party did not need to apologise for countering the ‘lies’ that were ‘serially and systematically’ put out by Labour and its allies on social media.
‘We are not going to be a punchbag for the nonsense put out by the Left that goes unchallenged,’ he said in a round of broadcast interviews.
The combative response came despite Twitter warning that the Conservative account would face ‘decisive corrective action’ if they repeat the stunt.
The party re-branded its Twitter feed for several hours, changing the name to factcheckUK during the debate.
Critics claimed the messages praising Boris Johnson could have been coming from an independent fact checking organisation, rather than the Tories – although the party pointed out that its handle had remained ‘@CCHQPress’ throughout.
Labour’s Dawn Butler said Twitter should have deactivated the account. ‘They could have just suspended the account and taken it down,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘To me, that would have been the better punishment.’
The Conservative Party press office changed their Twitter handle to FactCheckUK ahead of tonight’s debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn
The move was described as ‘inappropriate and misleading’ by fact-checking organisation Full Fact
Unsurprisingly, the FactCheckUK verdict was Boris Johnson was the ‘clear winner’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the party did not need to apologise for countering the ‘lies’ that were ‘serially and systematically’ put out by Labour and its allies on social media
The microblogging site warned the Conservative Party about their actions which were in breach of the company’s terms and conditions.
According to the company: ‘Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election.
‘We have global rules in place that prohibit behavior that can mislead people, including those with verified accounts.
‘Any further attempts to mislead people by editing verified profile information – in a manner seen during the UK Election Debate – will result in decisive corrective action.’
The Tory Party stunt was widely criticised, including by fact-checking organisation Full Fact.
In a tweet, the organisation said: ‘It is inappropriate and misleading for the Conservative press office to rename their twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ during this debate.
‘Please do not mistake it for an independent fact checking service such as @FullFact, @FactCheck or @FactCheckNI.’
The @CCHQpress account is verified by Twitter, displaying a blue tick which is intended to denote that a user is genuine.
Unsurprisingly, the FactCheckUK account found that Boris Johnson ‘won’ the debate with Mr Corbyn.
The Liberal Democrat press office posted an image suggesting they were reporting the account to Twitter for ‘pretending to be me or someone else’.
Former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell changed his name to Boris Johnson following the Tory Party’s move and tweeted that he was ‘lying’ about the NHS
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured, was debating tonight with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on ITV in the first head-to-head meeting of the 2019 General Election
Jeremy Corbyn, pictured, faced Boris Johnson tonight in the head-to-head debate on ITV
They tweeted: ‘And people wonder why trust in politics has been eroded @CCHQPress’.
Labour’s David Lammy tweeted: ‘The Conservative Party press office @CCHQPress rebranding themselves as ‘FactCheckUK’ shows what disdain this party and this government has for the truth.
‘The Electoral Commission must investigate and punish this blatant attempt to decieve the public.’
Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly appeared on BBC Newsnight last night to defend the scam.
He said: ‘The Twitter handle of the CCHQ press office remained CCHQ Press, so it’s clear the nature of the site. The reason we did that was to call out the inaccuracies of the lies that were coming out during the debate – the NHS is not for sale. It has never been for sale, it will not be for sale.’
Mr Cleverly said it was the party’s digital team who decided to change the name of their Twitter feed during the debate.
He said: ‘The digital team have a remit. I set the remit. They work within that remit. I am absolutely comfortable with them calling out when the Labour party put out complete fabrication in the public domain and we will call that out whenever they do it.’