According to an article in The Guardian on Friday, in the United Kingdom, ‘A cross-party group of MPs is threatening to sue [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson unless he orders an independent investigation into Russian interference in recent UK elections and the 2016 Brexit vote.’ This follows accusations by a recent parliamentary report which claimed that the British government had not taken the threat of Russian disinformation and electoral interference properly. The Guardian notes:
The MPs say the government’s refusal to investigate Kremlin meddling is a breach of the European convention on human rights, which enshrines the right to free elections in protocol 1.
The group says it will take the prime minister to court if he fails to implement what it describes as essential steps to protect future elections. It has sent him a pre-action letter, to which Downing Street has two weeks to respond.
Claims that the UK has been the target of a ruthless campaign of Russian disinformation designed to sway the opinions of British voters have been a staple of political discourse ever since the Brexit referendum, but have become increasingly hysterical in the past 12 months or so. In the runup to last autumn’s general election, for instance, Politico ran an article with the ominous headline ‘Suspected Russian Disinformation Campaign ahead of UK Election’. Among members of what I call the ‘disinformation industry’, the idea that Russia was bound to try to fiddle with the election was widespread.
When no signs of such meddling could be found, the industry turned on the government, accusing it of failing to find the signs which everybody knew had to be there, if only the government bothered to look. ‘How Hostile Disinformation by Russia has Harmed the UK’, shouted a headline in the New Statesman, reflecting the general view of the British commentariat.
Well, it turns out that somebody now has taken a look at the election, and has found copious evidence of disinformation. But unfortunately, it turns out that it wasn’t the Russians who were responsible. It was Britain’s very own Conservative Party. As The Independent reports:
The Conservative Party used disinformation tactics with a ‘new level of impunity’ during last year’s general election, a report has found.
Researchers from King’s College London warned that the campaign had risked undermining public trust during the coronavirus pandemic.
Their report said Tories had ‘employed overt disinformation’ to secure votes, such as by altering a video of [Labour MP and now leader] Sir Keir Starmer and posing as a fact-checker on Twitter during a leader’s debate.
The King’s College team aren’t the only ones to have looked into the matter. The Independent tells us also that:
In separate research, the fact-checking organisation First Draft found that Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats all published misleading advertising during the campaign.
But the Tories were ‘by far the most frequent’, with 88 per cent of their most shared online adverts between 1 and 4 December containing misleading information, compared to 6.7 per cent for Labour.
‘Liar, liar, pants on fire!’ one is tempted to shout the next time one sees Boris Johnson on TV. Of course, we all know that politicians tell porkies, but 88% seems to be taking economy with the truth a little far. It turns out that Conservative politicians (who now make up the British government) really can’t be trusted. The article in The Independent concludes,
The report called for more research to be done across multiple platforms to examine how false information spreads and takes root, calling claims that ‘Facebook, or bots, or the Russians are the core threat’ a ‘misdiagnosis’ of the problem.
So what is the problem? Where does disinformation come from? The article leaves little room for doubt:
The King’s College research said that while government policy had focused on social media as a source for disinformation, much of it was being ‘spread by domestic political actors’ and news outlets.
You don’t say? Who’d have thought it? There is a problem with disinformation in political life, but overwhelmingly the source of that disinformation is not Russia but domestic politicians and their helpers in the media. Unless, of course, this report itself is disinformation. Its allegations were ‘wild assertions’, said a Conservative Party spokesman. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?