During the 2019 general election campaign, the Conservatives rebranded their official Twitter account as “factcheckUK” during the televised leaders’ debate and used it to publish anti-Labour posts. The inconspicuous Twitter handle remained as @CCHQPress, but all other branding was changed to look like an independent factchecking outlet. It was not obvious to an individual glancing at the account’s tweets in their feed that it came from Conservative party HQ. The public have increasingly turned to factchecking websites, such as the independent Full Fact, the BBC’s Reality Check, Channel 4 News’ FactCheck and the Guardian’s Factcheck, to verify claims made by politicians. Changing the site’s logo to hide its political origins, and using it to push pro-Tory material was a thus flagrant attempt to deceive voters. This was not the only case of malpractice by the Tory digital team. Other examples included a bogus website presented as Labour’s manifesto, and an interview with Keir Starmer, then Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, edited to make it appear he was unable to answer questions about the party’s policy on leaving the EU.
The PR unit behind these deceitful stunts was Topham Guerin, a New Zealand digital team signed up by Isaac Levido, the Tory campaign leader. They were not in the least abashed by the criticism of their tactics, declaring that that the success in spreading the Tory message was well worth the controversy it aroused. After the election, Levido, was ennobled and in March 2020 Topham Guerin received a £3m Covid 19 contract from the Cabinet Office, without competitive tender, to work on the government’s public communications on the pandemic. According to PR Week’s site, they still play a key role in managing No10’s social media and digital output.