BBC fights ‘fake news’ with fake Twitter accounts

BBC Verify journalist Marianna Spring showed off her employer's coordinated inauthentic behavior on social media

BBC fights ‘fake news’ with fake Twitter accounts

The state-funded UK broadcaster operates several “sockpuppet” accounts representing different political views

A journalist with the British broadcaster’s new fact-checking spinoff BBC Verify has admitted to deploying multiple fake Twitter accounts to combat “disinformation.”

In a segment broadcast on Saturday, BBC “disinformation correspondent” Marianna Spring warned the audience that “mistruths can cause really serious harm to societies and the people in them.” She then revealed she had set up multiple “undercover accounts” on Twitter for the BBC’s Americast broadcast, each one representing different political views so as to better “interrogate” the viewpoints of the network’s target audience.

While the deception was portrayed as an attempt to “understand polarization online” by observing a cross-section of what kind of content social media platforms are recommending to different demographics, all three “characters” were white women. Emma, a 25-year-old atheist graphic designer with a “live-in partner” based in New York City, hails from the “progressive left.” Britney, a recently-divorced 50-year-old mother of three living in Houston, comes from the “populist right” and works as a school secretary. Gabriela, 44, a married mother of three who moonlights as a nanny, is cast as a “stressed sideliner.”

The graphics surrounding the fake profiles suggested a presence across Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, though the network stopped short of revealing its sock-puppets’ usernames. Twitter explicitly forbids using the platform to “artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience or platform manipulation defenses,” and most other social media platforms have similar policies.

According to the BBC, its Verify division consists of a team of 60 “forensic journalists and expert talent” from within the network, tasked with “fact-checking, verifying video, countering disinformation, analyzing data, and – crucially – explaining complex stories in the pursuit of truth.”

The BBC got a £20 million ($24.13 million) shot in the arm from the UK government earlier this year specifically to “counter disinformation,” with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly hailing the network as “the world’s most trusted international broadcaster.”

However, critics have called out the BBC for putting out what they claim are heavily biased and outright fabricated stories, particularly with regard to the conflict in Ukraine, even while the network continues to portray “disinformation” as the exclusive province of Russian media.

The network has nurtured the careers of ‘Russian bot’ hunters like the Atlantic Council alumnus Ben Nimmo, who has made a livelihood out of reclassifying genuine political dissent as “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” and having its practitioners deplatformed as state operatives. The BBC has also hosted government-controlled journalists tasked with waging information warfare against Russia, while its “charitable” arm, BBC Media Action, engaged in covert operations designed to “weaken the Russian state’s influence” in the Balkans.