Fake news is fair game in UK polls

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The latest UK election held on Thursday was an important one. The country is at a crossroad, thanks to the mess over Brexit. While the national and international interest in this election is on account of Brexit, it has also become significant for another reason: the staggering levels of disinformation in the campaigns.

That fake news and misleading information are creeping into political campaigns globally is no secret, more so after the allegations of foreign meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections. Yet, the scenario in the UK is especially alarming as it involves not just shadowy, anonymous, virtual characters, but also the people’s elected representatives themselves.

In the six weeks of campaigning leading up to the election, the online behaviour of leading candidates and their parties has been questionable. The incidents have ranged from the inadvertent to the manipulative. The first involves Jeremy Corbyn citing ‘leaked’ documents that mentioned a ‘secret’ agreement of the rival Conservatives to outsource public healthcare to the US, which later turned out to be part of a Russian disinformation campaign. The Conservative Party posting a doctored video misrepresenting a Labour MP; and rebranding one of its Twitter accounts to look like a fact-checking website during a live debate between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Corbyn falls in the second category.

In each of these cases, it is clear that false information was circulated in a bid to influence the voters. And, unfortunately, most such tactics are still within legal limits not just in the UK, but also globally. Disinformation, we know now, is not just put out by sophisticated coders in ‘troll farms’, but also by those charged with leading the country. Election campaigns have become more vitiated and misinformed than ever — not least the referendum on Brexit. Surely, it is not too much to ask our leaders to stay clear of spreading falsehood.

The writer is Sub Editor with BusinessLine

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