Unpacking the main U.K. election misinformation trends and narratives

Unpacking the main U.K. election misinformation trends and narratives

By: scott reid&
July 3 2024

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Unpacking the main U.K. election misinformation trends and narratives

(Source: Slim Plantagenate/Alamy via Reuters Connect)

When the U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that a general election would take place on July 4, questions were raised over what misinformation voters would face in the build-up to the big vote. 

The last British general election took place in 2019. Much has changed since then, and technological developments led to concerns over the possibility of AI and improved deepfakes having a big impact. 

Here, Logically Facts shares explainers and guides that can help you evaluate the credibility of any information you encounter. We look at whether new technology impacted the election and analyze the main issues and narratives that led to a huge proportion of the misinformation online since the election was called six weeks ago. We also explain what you can expect on election day and in the following days.

Prebunking: helping you evaluate information 

Alongside the new developments, the usual narratives and conspiracy theories that affect any election in the 21st century were also in play, such as unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud, politicians being accused of being in the pocket of the World Economic Forum, and the Great Replacement theory. These may be predictable for those working in the misinformation sphere, but they remain important to tackle as they are dangerous to democracy. Rod Dacombe, a reader in politics and a conspiracy theory specialist at King’s College London, previously told Politico: “It is inherently anti-democratic, in the sense that if you believe this stuff, you don’t believe in mainstream political institutions.”

Logically Facts created prebunks to ensure voters had the information they needed way ahead of the election. We have produced articles on the types of misinformation types of misinformation you may encounter ahead of a vote and debunked myths about voter fraud. Our previous toolkit ahead of local elections has valuable tips on spotting misinformation which is also useful for the general election.

AI, deepfakes, and new technology

An AI-generated image of Keir Starmer and a video of Ed Davey which was presented out of context (Source: X/TikTok/Composite by Logically Facts)

Fears that technological developments would result in a flood of deepfakes and artificial content from AI have been mostly unfounded in this election. Of all our U.K. general election fact-checks, only 11 percent covered these areas.  

Some fake images circulated, including one viral example which showed Labour leader Keir Starmer surrounded by non-white people that attempted to make the point that he no longer represents the working class

Generally, most false visual and audio misinformation was low-tech; edited footage or videos taken out of context. These included fake Guardian articles that were never published, an old video of Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey from 2020 suggesting he’d been drunk during the election campaign, and posts claiming politicians had made insulting remarks on television that they hadn’t, including the false allegation that Keir Starmer had called Rishi Sunak a “prick” during an election debate. 

Another area of concern was AI chatbots such as Chat GPT. While these generally didn’t spread misinformation, we found they often weren’t much use for anyone trying to find anything out about the election, partially because the companies in charge often restricted their output out of caution. You can find out what happened when we tested them here

Immigration, one of the main misinformation narratives

Immigration accounted for many false posts and claims fact-checked by Logically Facts during the campaign. 

A report from a satirical site suggesting Rishi Sunak would pay people to leave the U.K. was taken seriously by some TikTok users. (Source: TikTok/Screenshot)

Examples of false narratives included a claim made by former Reform UK party leader Richard Tice that more migrants have arrived in the U.K. in the last two years than between 1066 and 2010. Logically Facts found this to be false as there is no complete data for the period 1066-2010, and net immigration between 1964 and 2010 (14.6 million) already exceeds the long-term immigration to the U.K. for 2022 and 2023 (2.5 million). 

A Reform UK advert claimed that Britain’s future is at stake because 14 million migrants are expected to arrive in the next 12 years. This is false; ONS projections put the estimate at 10 million, which does not consider emigration and other population changes. The current high migration rates are also mainly driven by work and study. 

Amid other claims, an online post claiming Labour MP Rachael Maskell endorsed “mass migration” just before the election was found to be a speech dating back to 2015 talking specifically about Syrian refugees. People also fell for a post claiming that Rishi Sunak was offering £75,000 to British citizens to leave the country. It was posted by a satirical account called Bulls Nose News, and the claim is not true

Logically Facts produced a full explainer on what the facts are about immigration in the U.K., which you can read here. You can also read our analysis of the online presence of visual representations of the Great Replacement theory, which avoids explicit political statements but pushes the conspiracy theory that the U.K. is being “invaded” by immigrants. 

Claims about Keir Starmer and London Mayor Sadiq Khan

False claims about the Labour leader and London mayor were also prevalent, the latter particularly notable as he is not standing at this election. These are often related to conspiracy theories surrounding the World Economic Forum or a supposed preferential treatment for Muslims in the U.K.

Among the posts, there was a false claim that Labour would introduce blasphemy laws for those criticizing Islam. Another false post claimed that Keir Starmer prevented the prosecution of grooming gangs over Islamophobia fears. There was also the false claim that Sadiq Khan pledged 46,000 government-funded homes exclusively for Muslims. 

The parties themselves and the manifesto claims

The Conservatives rebranded their press account to “Tax Check UK” during a debate. (Source: X/Screenshots)

Logically Facts fact-checked many of the party manifestos and found misleading, confusing, and out-and-out false claims in many of the documents. You can read our breakdown of the manifestos here.

We also fact-checked election debates on ITV, the BBC, and Sky News

During one of the debates, the Conservative Party repeated a stunt from party leader debates in 2019 and rebranded its press account on X (formerly Twitter) to Tax Check U.K., leading to claims it was misleading voters into believing this content was produced by an independent organization. You can read our article on this here

So what can you expect on election day and afterward? 

On election day, British broadcasters are not allowed to report on any election campaigns or issues while voting is taking place. 

Polling stations are open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., though anyone in a queue after 10 p.m. will still be allowed to vote. At 10 p.m., broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV will present an exit poll that predicts how many seats each party will win and who will form the government. They will then continue coverage overnight as the results come in. We should have a good idea of who should lead the next government by the following morning, though counts in some constituencies will still be going on. 

However, conversation, speculation, and misinformation on polling day itself and beyond will undoubtedly continue online on social media. 

An old conspiracy theory suggesting people should use pens to prevent their votes from being tampered with gained new traction in the London mayor election when it was falsely claimed cast votes were being rubbed out

Those unhappy with the results may cry voter fraud, something which has been alleged by Reform UK leader Nigel Farage in the past. There is no evidence of large-scale voter fraud in the U.K. There have been reports of issues with delayed postal votes not arriving with voters, which also has the potential to spark conspiracy theories. The Royal Mail said it had no “backlog” and was confident votes handed to it on time would arrive before polling day, while the Electoral Commission told GB News “very few” people hadn’t received their postal ballots. 

And just a reminder: voters require ID to vote in this election. You can read our analysis of this development here.

Follow Logically Facts' coverage and fact-checking of the U.K. General Election here.

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We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before