Firm that ran fake news advertising for Brexit campaign is rebranded as ‘safety tech’ expert

Fake news: real or fake?
Tom Coburg

A government department has described the UK as a “world-leader” for “safety tech”. Such technology, the department suggests, will help ensure “the UK is the safest place in the world to go online”. But in a list of companies that form this sector, it’s included the agency responsible for Vote Leave’s advertising – much of it fake news. That agency is headed by an associate of Dominic Cummings, who effectively runs 10 Downing Street.

Meanwhile, an agency that ran fake news items for the Conservative Party during the 2019 general election has been given £3m by the Johnson government to help run the coronavirus (Covid-19) campaign.

You couldn’t make this up.

Faculty AI’s new listing

On 22 July 2020, it was reported that certain responsibilities of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) would come under the direct control of the Cabinet Office. Not long after, the DCMS, together with the Department for International Trade, published a directory of firms that specialise in ‘safety tech’ and which could help combat fake news and disinformation generally. In its introduction, the directory says:

The technology and services that these organisations provide are valuable to government and society. …

They… help to tackle disinformation, and false or misleading narratives.

An independent report by Perspective Economics, a Belfast-based economic advisory company, for the DCMS describes the organisations listed in the directory as helping to “detect and disrupt false, misleading or harmful narratives”.

Listed in the directory is Faculty AI. It describes itself as being:

experienced in using AI to protect and inform citizens, and have developed AI tools to detect terrorist content, identify disinformation and fake content

Fake news

Faculty AI was previously known as Advanced Skills Initiative (ASI) Data Science and was a supplier for Vote Leave, the Brexit campaign fronted by prime minister Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

The Electoral Commission database revealed that five invoices for five sets of work, including ‘advertising’, were provided by ASI to Vote Leave:

Vote Leave ads were examined by the DCMS as part of its inquiry into fake news. Some ads were blatant lies and aimed to instil fear, such as the one that incorrectly claimed that Turkey was about to join the EU.

There was also this one on immigration:

Fake Vote Leave ad

Another was the £350m EU claim, pronounced by Full Fact as “wrong” and by the UK Statistics Authority as a “clear misuse of official statistics”.

Downing Street link

Faculty is run:

by Marc Warner, whose brother Ben Warner, a data scientist, was reportedly recruited to Downing Street last year by [Downing Street special adviser] Cummings after running the data modelling for the Conservative party’s general election campaign.

Moreover and significantly:

Ben Warner is a former senior employee at Faculty and is also said to have worked on Vote Leave.

Faculty has previously been awarded a number of contracts by the UK government. It’s reported that since 2018 Faculty has been given at least 13 contracts worth £3m. One such contract awarded to Faculty will enable the government to examine not only someone’s credit details but also their social media accounts and utilities payments. All, apparently, to assist in coronavirus (Covid-19) intelligence gathering.

More fakery

Meanwhile, Topham Guerin Limited (TG) has been given a contract worth £3m on Covid-19 related campaign work. The contract states that TG is required to “Attend meetings with 77th Brigade and Cabinet Office staff to review fake news mitigations efforts and provide recommendations on further actions to take”. Part of the 77th Brigade’s remit is “countering Covid misinformation”.

TG was responsible for the rebranding of a Conservative Party Twitter account as a so-called fact checking service in the midst of the 2019 general election campaign. It’s also reported that TG set up a website presented, falsely, as the Labour Party’s manifesto.

Elsewhere it’s reported that TG undertook work for communications firm CTF Partners, named by Bill Browder in his confidential report to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

Loads of money

It appears that loads of money is swirling around, thanks to the pandemic, with much of it going to firms that have little or nothing to do with health care.

This is disaster capitalism in action.

Featured image via Wikimedia – Cole Camplese

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