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Great Britain

Tories accused of 'misleading' Facebook advert after altering news report about Boris Johnson's education policy

The Conservative Party has been accused of running "misleading" adverts on Facebook after appearing to manipulate a BBC News article to promote Boris Johnson's education policy.

Adverts paid for by the party featured an article on school funding that hadhad  its headline altered to read "£14 billion pound cash boost for schools". The original article was headlined "School spending: Multi-billion pound cash boost announced”."

The £14bn figure used by No10 has been criticised because it relates to the combined spending increase across several years, rather than per year. 

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Facebook allows advertisers to alter the headline on news articles they have paid to promote.

The actual BBC article linked to in the advert includes analysis by the broadcaster's head of statistics that says £14bn figure "would make the government seem more generous than it is in fact being” and is “not normally how we talk about spending increases”.

The change was uncovered by Full Fact, a charity seeking to tackle disinformation, which said the advert was "misleading for readers".

The group said some of the adverts had been viewed up to 510,000 times in the last ten days.

MPs have urged ministers to improve transparency laws around political campaigning before the next election, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The government has proposed a series of reforms, including the creation of a new watchdog, but they are highly unlikely to be in place if a poll is held later this year.  

Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact, said: “It is wrong for the work of independent journalists to be altered in this way and misleading for readers.

“This government has previously agreed that UK election law must be updated and that the integrity of our elections is at risk. With an election increasingly likely, emergency legislation is needed to ensure online campaigning and advertising is truly open and transparent, as recommended by the cross-party DCMS committee.”​

The Conservatives have been contacted for comment.

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