The 2019 UK Election: A Battleground against Misinformation

London Union Jack Credit: Pixabay

News Analysis by Arin Yasin, Emil Santana, and Emilia Nygren

The latest battleground in the ongoing struggle against misinformation is the United Kingdom, which is in the midst of one of its most consequential elections in modern history.

David Klepper and Danica Kirka’s article, Tech companies rush to fight misinformation ahead of UK vote,” details the largely unsuccessful campaign so far by social media companies and the British government to identify and fight misinformation ahead of the United Kingdom’s election on Dec. 12. 

It is clear that Facebook, the largest social media platform in the UK with 42 million users, and the country’s Election Commission lack an implementable strategy for this election cycle. (Twitter, meanwhile, implemented a ban on political ads beginning on Nov. 22.) Despite the Election Commission’s proposals, which include banners on ads that clearly identify their sponsor and increased fines for campaigns that violate the rules, the current government has not taken action to implement them. This is particularly relevant for news consumers because without governmental action, there is no recourse against individuals or non-state actors who may engage in disinformation. 

This lack of governmental regulation has already impacted the 2019 campaign. Earlier this month, the Conservative Party posted a doctored video on Facebook and Twitter showing a Labour Party official failing to answer a question about Brexit, when in reality, the official responded expeditiously. When confronted with the doctored video, the chairman of the Conservative Party called it a “lighthearted satire.” Making light of a falsified video devalues the potential impact of disinformation in this election cycle. Politicians and political parties that spread fabricated videos or post false ads taint the information voters will consider and pose a real threat to the democratic process.

Takeaway: This will be one of the first major elections since Twitter’s new policy banning political ads, but Facebook still allows campaigns to post demonstrably false ads. That means it’s up to UK voters to make sure they are obtaining verified and independent information. The US government should also be watching to see if Facebook, Twitter and Google live up to their promise to respond to disinformation and elections hoaxes and move quickly to adopt policies and regulations that combat misinformation as the American election season heats up.