The 2019 election was won on the back of lies – and Facebook helped

Boris Johnson
Alan MacLeod

Voters got a palpable taste of what it’s like to live in a post-truth world last week as Boris Johnson, characterised by many as one of the most dishonest actors in British political history, swept to power on the back of an overwhelmingly misleading campaign. That’s according to First Draft News, a non-profit organisation dedicated to fighting disinformation which found that 88% of the Conservatives’ political ads on Facebook were “misleading”. This was by far the biggest proportion from any major political party. And as First Draft pointed out:

Facebook recently announced that posts from political organisations and political adverts are exempt from fact-checking, meaning parties and candidates can promote inaccurate claims without scrutiny.

Over 5,000 of the 6,749 different ads the Tories ran contained reference to the construction of 40 new hospitals, for example, while more than 500 promoted the debunked claim that they will employ 50,000 new nurses. In reality, the party’s spending plans allocate funding only for the upgrading of six hospitals and the 50,000 number includes retaining 18,500 already employed nurses. Perhaps this explains why the NHS was in 41% of Tory voters’ ‘top three’ issues, despite the well-publicised fact that Johnson has a history of supporting increasing privatisation of the NHS and his party has been negotiating to open the service up to US corporations. 

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Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have been exposed for circulating election propaganda masquerading as local newspapers, while Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson was grilled by Sky News as she attempted to defend her “entirely misleading” graphs that falsely claimed the Lib Dems were in the best position to win.

The money keeps rolling in…

Facebook, meanwhile, seems to have a long history of promoting and helping hard-right candidates. A recent study by the University of Warwick found that, during the 2016 American presidential elections, micro-targeted ads on the platform had a “significant effect in persuading undecided voters to support Mr. Trump, and in persuading Republican supporters to turn out on polling day”. Meanwhile, US advertising executives representing the far-right AfD party reportedly met with Facebook officials at the company’s headquarters in Berlin to discuss how to use the platform to recruit. The campaign of micro-targeting ads was deemed by media expert Noam Chomsky as the crucial explanation for how the party tripled its vote share, with 13% of Germans voting for a fascist candidate in 2017.

While Twitter and Google announced they were refusing to accept any more targeted political ads, Facebook did not follow suit, and has continued to cash in during British and US election seasons. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his decision on a moral basis, claiming that “political speech is important”, and asserting that – from a business perspective – the controversy “far outweighs” the financial gain, thus presenting himself as a crusading martyr for free speech. Many didn’t buy his representation of himself and his company, though. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, grilled him at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, demanding to know why he hadn’t cleaned up obvious fake news circulating like wildfire on his website. 

Regulation?

Yet calling for Facebook to regulate itself, leaving it up to the company to determine ‘fake news’ (thereby deciding what its 2.4 billion worldwide users see and don’t see) is a very risky strategy for progressives like Ocasio-Cortez. Because under the guise of ‘fighting fake news’, huge platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google have already changed their algorithms. While the effect on misleading information has been negligible, the effect on a diversity of opinion has been near catastrophic. High-quality alternative media, where the public can go for a wider range of opinions, has been seriously harmed as media giants de-rank, demote, or de-list them and essentially consider promoting establishment media sources in their place. Across the board, alternative media has recorded huge drops in traffic (and therefore income), seriously threatening their survival.

Furthermore, Facebook has teamed up with the Atlantic Council, a thinktank connected to NATO, to help it decide what is true and what is ‘fake news’. The Atlantic Council’s board is a who’s who of ex-CIA heads like Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, and Michael Chertoff, as well as US war criminals like Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell. When a group like this is deciding what the world sees in their news feed, we have already reached the point of state censorship. Facebook is also working closely with the US and Israeli governments in deeming who to kick off its platform.

Nationalise the internet?

The greatest threat to press freedom, diversity of opinion, and free elections in the UK (and elsewhere) is not armed thugs or a foreign army; it is slick, faceless megacorporations which, on a whim, can completely change what we see, hear, and read. It’s time the internet was redrawn as a public good rather than a corporate free-for-all. But don’t expect the Tories to do that any time soon. Because they’re benefitting way too much from the status quo.

Featured image via YouTube

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    1. OK. That’s enough. Guardianization of theCanary is in full swing. Will stop my meager monthly subs from next month. Some people never learn from mistakes. I thought theCanary would salvage something from this catastrophic shit storm. I’m mistaken.

          1. precisely the sort of hostile attitude to dissent which has resulted in the worst Labour result since 1935.

            The momentum evangelicals will bring Labour down to 100 seats for 2024. A massive defeat but their policies and agenda were brilliant seems to be the line. They really do think people are superior beings.

            1. Oh so your dissent does the opposite does it?

              And just to keep score, you again can’t seem to make sense with your claims, for example;-

              “precisely the sort of hostile attitude to dissent which has resulted in the worst Labour result since 1935”

              Arguably the worst result for Labour was when Tony Blair managed to turn it into the second Tory party (turning our political establishment into a 3-Tory Party, all votes R 4 Tory hegemony system), and subjecting us all to a practically unbroken 40-year Tory Dictatorship.

              In your other posts i.e. “Thank You Jeremy Corbyn” by Frea Lockley, you blame me personally for Boris Johnson getting in.

              Make up your mind will you, you’ve accused me of being personally responsible for Labour losing voters, personally responsible for Jeremy Corbyn’s mistakes (even though I recognise those mistakes as mistakes), personally responsible for the 2019 GE result … I mean fuck man! … what kinda god or super-being do you think I am? You’re a deluded fool that has the deduction and reasoning abilities of a grain of sand if you think I am responsible for all that.

              I agree that there is hostility towards dissent, but then not all dissent is equal, is it? Particularly if it comes from you.

      1. Obviously the EU needs reformation to be more amenable to ordinary workers & not just states and banks
        But you apparent assertion that democracy will only be found by leaving misses the giant elephant of who will be in charge of the democracy out here.
        Both systems could do with adjustment, systems always could, but claiming the single license on ‘proper’ LW stuff?
        Whose arrogant?

    2. Imagine for a moment that Gaza was filled with Israelis and surrouded by Arabs who would not let them leave and bombed them whenever they felt like it.Imagine what we would be told and how soon that blockade would be broken.Imagine that……and then you can only begin to comprehend the extent to which the west is brainwashed by a totally controlled news media.The Canary excepted,of course.

      1. Imagine for a moment that you are an Israeli, almost surrounded by Arabs who call for your complete obliteration and the killing of Jews wherever they are found? Imagine for a moment that tunnels were being dug under your boundary so fanatics can enter to murder your children. Imagine for a moment that rockets supplied by Iran are raining down on your village? Imagine for a moment that millions of your people were murdered in living memory?
        There are two sides to such conflicts, and anyone who thinks only the Israelis are to blame deludes themselves. Who has being brainwashed here?

        1. Israel deserves to be criticized because they (and the USA), not Russia, interfered in our Democracy to a highly illegal level, and because their hands are covered in as much blood as their enemies.

          Israel, like its enemies, still hasn’t learnt the most basic of human lessons;

          VIOLENCE BEGETS VIOLENCE.

          … and that’s with over 2000 years to learn the lessons and counting (I’m talking recorded history here).

          Also, why ‘imagine’ what is already known to exist? Kiwipaul merely invited empathy and consideration from an alternative view point, you however have decided to try and make those words look like a one-sided anti-Semitic attack on Israel.

          Israel is breaking International Law, and whilst I have sympathy for Israel’s situation, I also have sympathy for those around Israel, who have been subjected to decades of Israeli violence.

          Israel is illegally possessing land it is not entitled to, and posses weapons of mass destruction it is also not allowed to have (legally speaking), and about which it lies to the World about having (even though this has been proven beyond doubt).

          Israel is not a special case country exempted from Law, giving it authority to invade and murder against international Law. Neither is any other Nation for that matter.

          Peace has not been achieved because the Israeli leadership does not, and has never wanted peace with its neighbours, it prefers the excuses for conflict and control which ensures it can maintain a military advantage over the nations it suppresses. Which of course is also a huge irony.

          Anti-Semitism is without doubt evil, but so are any racist, creedist, sexist, ageist, and many more ‘ists’ and ‘isms’.

          Islamophobia is just as bad as Anti-Semitism. Islamophobia is by far the biggest race/creed issue the UK currently has, Anti-Semitism is extremely low in comparison to many other problems in the UK, whereas Muslims in the UK are at a substantially higher risk of racist/creedist attacks, both physically and verbally.

          If no criticism of Israel is allowed, no criticism of Iran, or any other Islamic nation should be allowed. In fact, no criticism of any nation should be allowed because that (by the same rules we are now expected to obey in regards to Israel) is racism.

          Criticising Russia = Racism
          Criticising UK = Common Sense, and a Brit’s Prerogative
          Criticising America = Armageddon-ism
          Criticising Trump = Creed-ism, Fat-ism, Orange-ism
          Criticising Boris = Elite-ism, Rich-ism, Gism-ism (on account of him being a huge Gis-stain)
          Criticising Israel = Just don’t do it-ism! … oops too late!

    3. Who calls for the complete obliteration of Jews? Who calls for their killing wherever they are? Israel is an ethnocracy. It is founded on messianic entitlement. The primary claim of Jews to Palestine is that god gave it to Abraham. When the Yishuv arrived, what was the response of the Palestinians? Violence? It is uncontroversial that the aggression was initiated by the Zionists. The Palestinians were slow to respond. Munrobagger has obviously been reading the papers.
      The irony is that the internet was born in the public sector and its aim was democratic communication. Perhaps naive in a world dominated by property. Zuckerberg is just an old fashioned capitalist. A capitalist with a motherboard but a capitalist. A tool as powerful as the internet can’t be left in private hands. Nor should it be in the control of the State. It must be under democratic control. The way to do this is to make all platforms public service bodies supervised by councils elected by the people. Appointments are no good. It simply results in backscratching and people from the same stable coming through. In addition, all platforms should adhere by law to a charter established by democratically elected government. When it comes to elections, an elected body should be set up to scrutinise all material before it is posted.
      Zuckerberg is a super-rich capitalist. He could have made FB a non-profit organisation. It would have been easy to set it up so the advertising revenue surplus to running costs was donated to good causes. He could have paid himself $100,000 dollars a year. Why not? That would be ethical.
      Don’t expect billionaires to be concerned about the common folk. Raptors have no pity for their prey.

      1. Regarding your questions: “Who calls for the complete obliteration of Jews? Who calls for their killing wherever they are?”,
        Corbyn’s friends in Hezbollah and Hamas do: it is part of their raison d’etre. Corbyn would have known that.

    4. It appears good will is now gone, and lost in space. A space in the mind without forethought where disagreements are able to find a common ground. Its a war zone where many will be crippled, and the costs to prosperity astronomical.

    5. A strange article. During the election campaign, we had the BBC peddling lies almost uncritically for the Tories, accompanied by the kind of press coverage that would have embarrassed Putin’s Russia. Facebook is the least of our problems. A bigger priority, it seems to me, is that we return to having a natioal broadcaster that works for the British people, and a press that is not in the pocket of foreign billionaires and their intelligence agency controllers.

      1. This article is a good primer on how the ground has shifted and caught most people off guard, election result is just a consequence off what’s happening outside of people’s general awareness. One of the dangers is the belief especially among the left and the more compassionate side of the labour party that the boris admin will discredit themselves, due to policy that’s hostile to the poor, working and middle classes. Just need to hang in there with a good leader, our time will come in 2024, our voters will return, once the turmoil of a more extreme right brexit is known.

        Wishful thinking is one thing, lambs to the slaughter another, this goes well passed both, we’re talking about near total information control and advanced individualised psychological and emotional manipulation, where people who are going to cause immense damage, will be rebranded as heroes to those they damage most, whilst throwing them a few crumbs, people who fight against the carnage, will be branded as the cause and biggest threat.

        What happened to jezza should of been a wake up call, around this massive societal and technological shift. Very popular left wing leader, heading a revitalised party, principled, stands with the marginalised, exploited and dispossessed, reduced to being deeply unpopular, responsible for extreme hatred and prejudice, will of the people brexit betrayer and metropolitan elitist that turned his back on the working classes. Wanting to hand out free stuff to the unworthy, hows he going to pay for all that. Losing to a man who’s an habitual lier, true establishment elitist, extremely prejudice and generally cold to people outside of his tiny clique, who’s about to hand over loads of resources to undeserving oligarchs and fellow elitists, many of whom aren’t even british and also a massive national security risk.

        Looking to the extremely biased media, miscommunication regarding the manifesto, gaffes in interviews, slightly changing position on brexit to satisfy remainers etc, only goes so far, as this is standard fare for election cycles, media hostility to the left isn’t anything new, it might appear new and intense, but how many viable, popular left wing candidates has there been in the last 40 years or so. Gaffes, flip flops, pandering are all part and parcel of the campaigning process.

        What is new though is the rise of smartphones, tablets, smart watches, connected devices, iot, baby monitors, home security, smart tv’s, fitness trackers on and on. The amount of data these devices generate about an individual, location data, psychographic data, emotional states, levels of fitness, activity and health, online and real world social networks people belong too, always on digital assistants, this being the tip of the ice berg. Data is the new oil and with it comes new robber barons.

        What’s also new is a.i driven bot networks with embedded machine learning, chat bots that adapt as they interact online, taking in different ways people use language, grammar and expression then evolving to include all this new data in its interactions, making them hard to detect from real human interactions. Bots that are used to amplify individuals, groups, political and economic view points that are deeply unpopular, affect this has on us as very sociable animals in the main, wanting to belong. Combining all the data I’ve mentioned above, with financial data, health records, census data, search queries and a myriad of other data points.

        Road testing phrases that resonate with the electorate before election cycles, build the wall, lock her up, deep state, get brexit done, then instructing establishment candidates to keep using these phrases, during a cycle. Having near real time highly detailed data which can be mapped to locations based on individuals getting near instantaneous feedback on how candidates are perceived, what’s resonating with the electorate and where at all times. Boris kicks himself in the balls with an cold response due to a child having to lay on the floor of a hospital, these are the areas where people are outraged, let’s micro target them with a confederate posing with inside info about it being a set-up, amplify this message through instant messaging, social and traditional media allies.

        Most people get their info online now, traditional media has had to make the switch in order to survive, we can see the bias of traditional media, it can be studied, quantified and to a limited extent pushed back on, like cancelling your license fee or unsubscribing to newspapers etc. The other side of it is new, no regulation or oversight, very hard to track for researchers, usually until way after the event, it’s the wild west atm, fast moving, constantly evolving. For instance, terror attack happens, whats-app gets flooded with misinformation, like legitimate looking screen grabs of Jeremy Corbyn’s twitter feed seemingly siding with the perp.

        An average family with different personalities can all be micro-targeted with different, effective messaging simultaneously, delivered through their connected devices to favour an establishment candidate and develop an irrational hostility to the main opposition contender, even though the establishment candidates party has been in power for nearly a decade and has a track record of hostility against the families interests. This can be pushed back against, once people become more aware of what’s happening and push hard for legislation, cognitive liberty bill should be at the heart of labours, liberals, greens and snp’s next manifestos, but in the meantime people and politicians need to be more mindful as we’ve left the industrial phase and entered the technological phase, old methods and understanding are in the main obsolete now.

        1. Honestly, I think that what you have written is utterly, utterly, worthy of being a full-on article. 🙂

          It is good to be reminded of the sheer level of manipulation we are all being subjected to, which is in fact almost total control of our awareness, but so few still, are willing to see or admit it.

          I thoroughly enjoyed reading your informative, and factual offerings as much as I do by reading well written articles. Thank you.

          1. At times it feels like I’m peeing into the wind, getting people’s backs up, making excuses, although I admit some of my comments are ill thought out. But it’s nice to get feedback especially as you put a lot of thought into your responses on here and challenge the knee jerk reactions. So thank you in return.

        2. When you describe Jezza as a “Very popular left wing leader”, I wonder who you think he was popular with? Perhaps you forget 28 June when he lost the Vote of Confidence by Labour Party MPs by 172 to 40? Over 80% of his own MPs voted to get rid of him (not Tories or Lib Dems, or anyone else, but the core of his own MPs): hardly a demonstration of his popularity! Popular with Momentum, not surprisingly, and also with the membership. But not with the electorate. Unfortunately, he focused on those with whom he was popular, rather than those with whom he was unpopular: i.e. preaching to the converted, rather than converting others to his cause. Consequently, he was rejected in spectacular fashion by the electorate and deserved exactly what he got.

          1. Strange you should mention the plp vote in 2016 and link it to corbyns unpopularity, as he won the first leadership contest in 2015 with a landslide, then increased his vote share percentage in 2016 after mp’s in his party tried to oust him after a secret ballot, their candidate didn’t fair so well now did he.

            There are many reasons jezza lost the last election, having the centrist old guard not getting behind him and always plotting and indulging in malicious gossip in the press, tories lying and pretending they gave a shit about the nhs and the working class, fearful if their true intentions were made public their vote would collapse.

            All the misinformation and smears, working class people in leave areas already primed during brexit with scapegoats like immigrants the old favourite of the establishment and their stooges, having their buttons pressed constantly and fear glands squeezed.

            I’ve already gone into detail about the online manipulation in my last big post and this article has also covered similar ground, if boris faced what corbyn did, taking on the establishment of multiple countries and their dirty tricks, how’d you think he would of fared?

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