Posts in News

Disinformation, Coronavirus and Twitter Tests New Tool

25/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Disinformation, Coronavirus and Twitter Tests New Tool”

Disinformation isn’t just a political phenomenon that rears it ugly head during elections. Lies and conspiracy theories are peddled every day on social media, often funded and fuelled by state actors. US State Department officials tasked with combating Russian disinformation have recently confirmed that thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to spread alarm about the new coronavirus, disrupting global efforts to fight the epidemic. This campaign has focused efforts on peddling conspiracy theories that the US government is responsible for the current Coronavirus outbreak.

 

“Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns,” said Philip Reeker, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia. 

 

Existing policy on social media companies allow this harmful activity to happen. Though social media companies have acknowledged these threats, as recently as October last year, Facebook stated that it will not be monitoring the truth of statements made on its platform. Some companies are, however, being more proactive. Last week, NBC News reported that Twitter is experimenting with adding brightly coloured labels directly beneath lies and misinformation posted by politicians and other public figures. In this version, disinformation or misleading information posted by public figures would be corrected directly beneath a tweet by fact-checkers and journalists who are verified on the platform and possibly by other users who would participate in a new “community reports” feature, which the demo claims is “like Wikipedia.”

 

This is an encouraging development. We will have to wait and see what the impact is of this new policy if – and when – it is rolled out across the platform. It remains to be seen if it will be used to target all disinformation, not just that of an overtly political nature. What we do know is that if tools like this are to be useful, they can’t just focus on one piece of the puzzle. Lies on social media platforms that are sown to stoke distrust can be equally damaging during and outside of elections.

 

It’s great to see Twitter wants to tackle this. It’s now on Facebook to follow suit. Having shown no intent to do so, governments must now make such requirements statutory.

It’s not what it says. It’s what it doesn’t say.

18/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “It’s not what it says. It’s what it doesn’t say.”

Last week the Government published its Online Harms White Paper – the first announcement from the Government since its consultation into “online harms”, which ran from April to the end of June 2019. Kyle Taylor, founder of Fair Vote UK, has published a piece in the Byline Times responding to the announcement. Shockingly, on the crucial issue of disinformation, fake news and online harms to democracy the government’s response is conspicuously silent. Given the role that technology played in the wrongdoings during and since the EU Referendum, this omission is glaring. Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency have 20 recommendations that the Government could implement now that would protect our democracy in the digital age. No more consulting, it’s time for action.

 

You can find a link to the article here.

The Hard Work Begins

07/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The Hard Work Begins”

Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency published Defending Our Democracy in the Digital Age on Monday 20th January. Described by the Observer as a ‘landmark report’, it sets out 20 recommendations on how to protect UK elections and referenda from malfeasance and misbehaviour. You can download a copy of the report and annexes here.

 

It is the most comprehensive answer to the problems in our democratic system exposed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

 

The hard work of implementing these 20 recommendations is now upon us. Fair Vote UK, in conjunction with APPG Chair Stephen Kinnock MP and Vice-chairs Caroline Lucas MP and Deidre Brock MP will be meeting with the new government to make the case for change. The cross-party coalition will be working hard to make sure that the government listens and makes the right change to safeguard our democracy.

 

Real reform will only happen if new laws are brought in to respond to the threats our democracies face.

 

To make real change we need your help. Fair Vote UK is a small organisation that packs a punch. Since its inception it has changed the conversation on the impact of new technologies in democracies. To continue our important work we will need new support from generous donors. 

 

To support us to take this important work to the next stage, click here.

Our Day In Court – Mississippi Hearing

31/01/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Our Day In Court – Mississippi Hearing”

While it has been quite some time, we finally have some exciting news on the Mississippi Court Case. In October last year we instructed the Carson Law Group in Mississippi to pursue further legal action against Arron Banks and his companies. The work with Carson Law Group to get a preservation order to secure voter data that is allegedly held in Mississippi by Eldon Insurance and/or Big Data Dolphins has now reached the courts.

In its ongoing effort to help determine whether UK citizen’s data was off-shored by some of Arron Banks’ companies, yesterday Fair Vote UK had a hearing in court in Mississippi in pursuit of a preservation and production order. Our original lawsuit – backed by the ICO – was dismissed on purely procedural grounds. Having now satisfied all the requirements of the court, with still no documents produced by Arron Banks’ companies, we are optimistic about our chances for success.

As you’ll be aware, important legal challenges like this one are time-consuming and expensive but we refuse to let the powerful get away if they’ve committed wrongs. Please consider supporting our ongoing work now. As a team of near all volunteers, we greatly appreciate it. Click here to donate.

CCHQ Checked out of the Truth

21/11/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “CCHQ Checked out of the Truth”

It’s not just special interest groups and non-party organisations that enjoy misleading the public, but political parties too. On Tuesday evening, while Britain was tuning in to the first General Election debate of 2019, an official Conservative party Twitter account rebranded itself to make it look like it was providing a fact-checking service. David Lammy, prominent Labour MP, remarked that it showed “what disdain this party and this government has for the truth”. Following complaints from Full Fact, the charity that provides a non-partisan fact checking service, and others, Twitter said it would take “decisive corrective action” if a similar action was attempted again. But, in such a fast moving political environment, the damage is done.

This stunt exposes a few things that need urgent addressing. The first is that guidelines on what political activities are prohibited on social media platforms are not yet effective. When reporting tweets, you can now mark that a tweet is “misleading about voting”. That’s a welcome change. But it clearly isn’t enough. This tweet also shows us that established political parties aren’t above the fray. They’re more than happy to openly mislead the public in order to grab votes.

There are things we can do to make a hostile environment for this misbehaviour. We can call such action out publicly. We can contact our local elected officials and demand that they change their conduct. We can vote. And we can change election law. Our politics will continue to deteriorate if we don’t do what’s right and fight for our British values, the truth and fair play. The next government will have the power to enact legislation that safeguards our elections. It’s time we made sure that those in power put democracy, truth and fair play before their party.

#EyesOnElection

14/11/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “#EyesOnElection”

Earlier this week, we at Fair Vote UK launched  ‘Eyes on Election’, an Election Vulnerabilities Monitoring Project. This project, that will run the course of the General Election to 12th December, will keep the public informed about what misbehaviour there might be. It will play a vital public role in calling out threats to the election as they emerge – from blatant lies to more insidious disinformation, dodgy money and foreign interference. Disinformation and meddling can come from any side of the political aisle and so this will be non-partisan. It will call out attempts by parties and activists from all political groups of all persuasions.

There is already evidence of disinformation and there will be much more up until polling day because politicians have done nothing to protect elections in the digital age. This issue is urgent. By the end of the year, two elections will have been fought since our electoral system was demonstrated to be vulnerable in the 2016 EU Referendum. Lack of lasting structural change to the electoral system and the legislation that governs it will mean our elections remain vulnerable. Projects like Eyes on Election should not need to exist. There should be laws in place that protect our elections from threats on social media. Fair Vote UK will continue to fight for election safeguarding and expose the evidence for its urgency. It will build the evidence base necessary to force legislators to act on day 1 of the new Parliament – whoever is in power.

If you see something nefarious or suspect say something by sharing it on Twitter with #EyesOnElection.

We’ll also be posting some advice on how to identify such malfeasance on the web. Here’s a few pointers on how to recognise social media “bots”:

How to Identify a Bot

  • They post a lot. the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda team views an average of more than 50 posts a day as suspicious.
  • Their profile is “sparse”. There’s often no header photo and the profile pic looks generic. The less personal information on the profile, the more likely it is to be a bot.
  • Their ratio of followers to following is off balance. If they’re following 500+ people but only have 3 followers, be suspicious.

Russia Report Refused

05/11/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Russia Report Refused”

Yesterday we learned that the government has refused the publication of a report that examines Russian meddling in UK politics, including attempts to interfere in the 2016 EU referendum. The government gave a process excuse – that it needed more time to assess publication – as its flimsy reason for refusal. The result is that we will now have a General Election without a full understanding of the extent to which WE ALREADY KNOW a hostile foreign actor possibly infiltrated important recent democratic events. The investigation is done. The report is written. We are now knowingly calling an Election when new information exists on possible threats to its legitimacy. As a result, the Security Committee, which commissioned the report, will now be unable to use it as evidence for recommendations for greater safeguards for the upcoming Election.

 

Without real legislative change, we will be further exposing ourselves to risk from foreign interference in our elections. The elections laws in the UK have not been updated since 2001. Since that time, an enormous amount has changed, from the rise of social media and online campaigning to the deterioration of relations between the West and Russia. We already have substantial proof from the DCMS’s report on fake news to the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency’s evidence in 2019 that our current laws are not fit for purpose. This report would likely reinforce this evidence and demonstrate the need for change. But the government has decided to silence the truth. We should not accept such negligence. 

 

Safeguarding elections will remain urgent until politicians pass the right kind of reform. In January next year, the report on Electoral Campaigning Transparency will be published. Fair Vote UK will be working hard to ensure that the new government will enact its recommendations in full. Keep watching our Facebook, Twitter and this Blog for more information on how you can help to pressure decision makers to keep this high on their agenda. Together, we can make the difference that will help to re-establish trust in elections and our democracy. 

Public Inquiry Case Update

23/10/2019 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Public Inquiry Case Update”

We have a further update on our legal battle to secure a public inquiry into wrongdoing during the EU referendum campaign.

 

Last October, Fair Vote UK issued a judicial review to challenge the Government’s unwillingness to establish a public inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 EU Referendum. We wanted to ensure that vital lessons could be learned from a public inquiry and applied in future referendums and elections, including through urgent changes in the law.

 

Much has changed since then and we have, with the advice of our lawyers, made the difficult decision to withdraw our case for a judicial review. 

 

Our case for a Public Inquiry has been made more difficult by the many different Parliamentary inquiries, reviews and government consultations that have started since we first started out legal battle. These investigations and initiatives, such as the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Electoral Law inquiry; the government’s announcement of a range of new measures to safeguard UK elections; and the government’s Online Harms White Paper could possibly generate evidence and proposals that would address some of the issues that an EU referendum public inquiry would cover. We believe that the risk is high that the Courts will side with the government’s decision to reject the request for a public inquiry whilst these processes run their course. The decision to retreat has been hard but we are sure it was the right one given how likely it was that the court would refuse permission for our judicial review.

 

We are not giving up in any way our fight to uncover the whole truth about what happened during the 2016 EU referendum. We still believe that only a comprehensive public inquiry will get to the bottom of the wrongdoings during the EU referendum campaign. It is still crucial that the truth is exposed and decision makers are compelled to make the structural changes necessary to safeguard our democracy. 

Electoral Integrity Bill Misses The Point

16/10/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Electoral Integrity Bill Misses The Point”

Earlier this week we were treated to perhaps one of the oddest Queen’s Speech on record. Aside from the obvious fact that without a majority, this current government will find it difficult to pursue its policy priorities, it also previewed something referred to as the ‘Electoral Integrity Bill’. Following two trials from elections this and last year, the government intends to require people to show an approved form of photo ID in order to vote – in general elections in Britain and local elections in England.

 

It’s not quite clear why this law is needed. According to the Electoral Reform Society, “out of 44.6 million votes cast in 2017, there was one conviction resulting from the 28 allegations of in-person voter fraud – that’s 0.000063%”. The independent Electoral Commission even states that “there is no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud relating to the 2018 local elections.” It seems to be fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. This law is just political window dressing. It’s a way for the government to say that it takes the issue of safeguarding future elections seriously without having to tackle the real issues.  

 

We know what the real problems with the current system are. We know that the current regulation of funding and spending on campaigns as well as online political campaign adverts is broken. We know that our electoral law isn’t adequate for the realities of political campaigning in the age of social media. We know that our current systems of transparency, monitoring and deterrence are just not working. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency will soon publish its report and recommendations on this issue. It will be clear on exactly what needs to happen now and what will need to happen in the future so that our elections can continue to be fair and free. Here’s a sneak preview: Voter IDs isn’t included.

 

It’s great to see electoral law in the Queen’s Speech. But until it’s the right kind of reform, nothing will change.

Public Inquiry Update

07/10/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Public Inquiry Update”

Last week in Manchester, the Prime Minister warned there would be “grave consequences for trust in democracy” if Brexit were not delivered. We are already past this point. To restore trust in institutions and our democracy, we need to fully understand what happened during the EU Referendum campaign. This is why Fair Vote UK is continuing to fight for a Public Inquiry into wrongdoing in the EU Referendum. 

 

Here’s a quick reminder of what a Public Inquiry could get to the bottom of:

 

1. Russian interference in the EU Referendum

This is a real and pressing concern which is simply not being investigated. 

2. The involvement of foreign-based companies in the EU Referendum campaign

There is much evidence that shady, foreign companies supplied services to the designated Leave campaign and other campaigners during the EU Referendum campaign. 

3. Issues of truthfulness during the EU Referendum campaign

In June 2016 and June 2018 the Electoral Commission recognised that the truthfulness of certain arguments used in 2016 was a concern. 1000 days have passed since the Referendum and still there has been no investigation into what lies and misinformation were spread, by whom, with what financial backing and to what effect.

4. The lack of effective sanctions and accountability for overspending in the EU Referendum campaign

In June 2018, The Electoral Commission referred to the current £20k sanction as being “a cost of doing business” for some campaigners. It is clearly not fit for purpose and needs an urgent review. 

5. The scale of campaign donations in the EU Referendum

Donations of the scale of Arron Banks’s alleged £8.4 million to the Leave campaign or the £435,000 made to the DUP by the Constitutional Research Council are contrary to British values and our democracy.

6. The source of funds used by certain campaigners in the EU Referendum

Two recent DCMS reports noted that it was still unclear where some of the money for donations to the Leave Campaign have come from.

7. The anomalous rules relating to Northern Ireland have created gaps that may have been exploited during the EU Referendum campaign

Open Democracy has revealed that the DUP took out a full page advert in the Metro – which does not circulate in Northern Ireland – advocating leave and that the advert was paid for by Richard Cook of the Scottish-based Constitutional Research Council. This suggests coordination between the two entities.

8. Psychographic targeting in political campaigns and the lack of oversight of these new methods of political campaigning

Sophisticated new methods were used to target voters in the EU Referendum campaign, many of which have since been shown to be unethical and contrary to data protection legislation. The Information Commissioner has looked into the extent that profiling and targeting was in breach of data protection rights and taken action. However, there is still much we don’t know.

 

The Permission Hearing for the Public Inquiry will be later this month, on the 24th October. At the hearing, our lawyers will explain why the written refusal of permission back in January was wrong, and will make the case for permission to be granted so we can argue our case at a full hearing.

 

This has taken on a new urgency. With a probable upcoming election and possible new referendum, it’s important that all the lessons from the 2016 are learned. This way we can ensure that future elections are fought fairly.