At last, the technology giants have not only cottoned on to the tsunami of disinformation being peddled by those out there on the right, they have decided to do something about it, as the Tory Party has now discovered. Both Facebook and Google have slapped bans on the party’s selectively edited content, saving the blushes of the BBC in the process.
Tellingly, the advert that really got noticed featured the Beeb’s political editor, who has already faced severely adverse comment in the past. Who Targets Me observed last week that “The [Conservatives] just launched Facebook ads featuring [Laura Kuenssberg]”, adding “Her original words appear to be highly edited”. There was more.
“Also features [Huw Edwards]. Ends with the campaign’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ tagline. The party has been previously criticised for misusing BBC news stories in their ads, and for highly selective editing in their videos … How to deal with and report on impartial news sources being coopted for partisan campaign clips is one of the many mind-bending challenges of the complexity of social media”. There’s understatement for you.
Peter Jukes was not surprised. “The thing is the Conservative Party will think nothing of destroying the BBC these days. The most vocal critics of the current failings of the BBC are, more often than not, the most passionate defenders of public service broadcasting. BBC - appeasing your enemies will not help”. So what did the Beeb do in response?
“We’re aware of Conservative Party Facebook adverts using edited BBC content. This is a completely unacceptable use of BBC content which distorts our output and which could damage perceptions of our impartiality. We are asking the Conservatives to remove these adverts”. They had a case on intellectual property grounds, but Jukes was proved right.
They had reckoned without the cynical arrogance of today’s Tories. As the Beeb’s Joe Tidy observed, The Blue Team declined to do the right thing. “Statement from Conservative Party on the Facebook advert with BBC footage. They disagree with the BBC’s view and have no plans to take it down. They’ve also put it on YouTube now too”.
BBC Technology Editor Rory Cellan-Jones then had good and bad news. “One of their ads - featuring BBC material - has been banned but the Conservatives have today started running more than a 100 versions of these two ads about the NHS . Let us know at email@example.com if you get them - and tell us how they're targeted”.
But time was running out for this particular disinformation campaign. After Facebook confirmed that “We have removed this content following a valid intellectual property claim from the rights holder, the BBC. Whenever we receive valid IP claims against content on the platform, in advertising or elsewhere, we act in accordance with our policies and take action as required”, it was also revealed that Google had taken action against the Tories.
The Independent reported that “Google has banned eight different adverts paid for by the Conservatives over the last month because they broke its rules … Transparency data released by the search giant this week shows that the adverts ‘violated Google’s advertising policies’ and had been removed … [Google] specifically lists ‘fake documents’ as one of the things that cannot be promoted in advertisements and says ‘we don’t allow ads or destinations that deceive users’”. No further comment necessary.
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