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UK Election Manifesto Response

30 Jun 2024

Over the past three weeks UK political parties have published their respective manifestos ahead of the country’s general election on 4 July. After reading nearly 400 pages of policy pledges from the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, Reform UK, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru, Polis Analysis is disappointed and concerned by the lack of appropriate recognition of the dangers that misinformation and disinformation pose to the UK’s electoral processes.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on the National Security Committee (JCNSS) has warned within an open letter to Prime Minister Sunak that it is “not clear if members of the public fully understand how these threats will manifest and what this means for the UK, its democracy and for them as individuals.” Moreover, the terms misinformation, disinformation, and fake news appear only a total of four times within seven political manifestos. While prima facie acknowledgement of the increasing digital dangers facing the UK by Labour, Liberal Democrats, and the SNP are welcomed, Polis Analysis believes that no party has attempted to provide adequate solutions to a threat deemed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the biggest risk facing the world over the next two years.

Labour’s commitment towards a Strategic Defence Review within their first year of governance and a “comprehensive framework” to tackle “state-based domestic security threats” are welcome pledges. Although the JCNSS noted instead that “important legal loopholes” for disinformation existed for non-state rather than state domestic security threats, a recommitment to defending the country following “a pattern of attempted foreign interference” from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea amongst others. Having attended NATO’s Youth Summit in Miami last month, Polis Analysis supports the growing recognition of misinformation and disinformation as a tool used within hybrid warfare.

In contrast, the Liberal Democrats have committed to increasing media literacy and education across all generations in tackling the impact of fake news. Once again, Polis Analysis welcomes this policy decision – as society continues to become ever more dependent on a growing digital landscape, increased digital literacy skills are vital to fill the gaps where state legislation and digital moderation falls short. Yet digital literacy skills will only begin to meaningfully improve once sufficient action is directed towards this solution, a problem that will remain until technology and social media companies provide sufficient attention to the matter and regulatory bodies such as Ofcom show greater urgency towards fulfilling their current legal obligations.

Although the SNP’s call for the UK “to focus on countering disinformation and misinformation” lacks any additional substance, any support must be commended when the threat continues to be ignored by parties currently accounting for nearly 50% of popular support.

Yet, as Polis Analysis wrote earlier this month, the reality remains that a much wider approach is necessary to ensure the protection of the UK’s democratic integrity. Neither amending pre-existing legislative frameworks nor encouraging digital literacy are alone sufficient solutions to protecting the public from disinformation. Instead, a holistic, non-partisan, and multifaceted approach must be taken with immediate effect if we are to be sure that the integrity of future elections remains intact.   

  • The creation of a short-term deadline mandating Ofcom to establish its advisory committee on disinformation and misinformation

  • A reduction in the timeframe of the advisory committee’s final report from 18 to 6 monthsThe removal of media exemptions to false communication offences established in the OSA

  • Image authentication from public sources and “recognised news publishers” via a mandatory watermark system

  • The establishment of a public fund awarded to AI startups providing immediate and longer-term solutions to tackling disinformation, instead of a reliance on compliance by tech and social media giants

  • The creation of a free-to-access public database containing resources focused on key skills to verify online information

  • The implementation of digital literacy classes in education from Key Stage 2 and onwards, making sure children understand the potential dangers disinformation from an early age

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