Twitter issued a warning after Britain’s Conservative Party came under fire for rebranding one of its official Twitter accounts “factcheckUK” during a debate between its leader, Boris Johnson, and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday.
The change during a pivotal election debate drew immediate condemnation not just from users but also from organizations on the social media platform.
Though the Twitter “handle” remained CCHQPress (for the Conservative Party press office), the name and images of the page were switched to a purple background with a checkmark and “factcheckUK.” The account then issued “fact checks” of Corbyn’s statements during the debate.
In a statement, a Twitter spokesperson warned that “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.”
“Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election,” the spokesperson said. “We have global rules in place that prohibits behavior that can mislead people, including those with verified accounts.”
The CCHQPress account carries a blue verified badge by Twitter, meaning it’s a real account. The badge remained in place after they changed the name and branding during the debate. Though the handle stayed the same, only the name “factcheckUK” showed up for users on retweets.
“It is inappropriate and misleading for the Conservative press office to rename their twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ during this debate,” said Full Fact, an independent British fact-checking charity in a post. “Please do not mistake it for an independent fact checking service.”
Twitter has a policy against impersonation that states: “Twitter accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy.”
Britain’s Labour Party joined the wave of criticism saying, “Conservatives’ laughable attempt to dupe those watching the #ITVDebate by renaming their twitter account shows you can’t trust a word they say,” the party tweeted from its official account.
The editor for Britain’s Channel 4 News, Ben de Pear, who runs a service with a similar name called “FactCheck,” was also one of those who criticized the Conservative Party.
“As the home of the original FactCheck in the UK we need to point out ‘factcheckUK’ has nothing to do with @Channel4News,” de Pear tweeted. “No political party should be trying to cloak themselves in the guise of independent journalists.”
However, Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly rejected the criticism, saying the Twitter account was clearly identified as conservative, and was fact-checking the claims put forward by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “It makes it absolutely clear it’s a conservative website, absolutely clear,” he told Sky News in an interview after the debate.
This is not the first time the Conservative Party has come under fire for misleading usage of social media platforms.
Earlier in November, it posted a misleadingly edited clip of an interview from the television show “Good Morning Britain” that appeared to show Labour’s Brexit spokesperson Keir Starmer faltering for words and unable to answer a question from the host, Piers Morgan. In reality, Starmer answered the question immediately.
Several hours later, the Conservative Party’s press office retweeted an unedited version of the interview from the “Good Morning Britain” account, noting “there have been some enquiries about the veracity of Keir Starmer’s interview this morning.”
The Conservative Party did not respond to CNN’s request for an explanation.
With previous reporting from CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan and Nada Bashir.