The rapid evolution of new communication technologies via social media has reshaped political campaigning. The content parties use for their targeted and organic online communications now has several avenues. Parties can use bespoke in-house content, from posters to boriswave music videos, appreciating the creative control it gives them. However, alongside this content, parties also appreciate the reuse of other organisations content via news sources, TV interviews or newspaper front pages. This second avenue of content is vital for the parties as it offers the legitimacy of ‘balanced’ mainstream media with the capacity for parties to ‘edit the win’. Given that the parties are reusing and editing other organisations content more than ever, and that Facebook is now taking action upon the most heinous of edited videos, it is vital we explore the re-purposing of external content for parties own political ends.
Overall, it is clear that something must to be done to either regulate or enforce norms across this murky grey area of political content. A framework must be developed that both protects the impartial nature of public broadcast content as well as the ability for parties and the voters to use this content online. This new framework must place truth at its core, with editing allowed but not when it perniciously alters the original meaning of the reused content. This system will allow for the reuse of content online, a vitally important factor given the way people are consuming mainstream media content. However it also protects our politics from parties hijacking mainstream content to fuel political polarisation and them placing truth as a secondary factor under electioneering.
From cut up TV debate footage to edited car crash interviews, political communication has shifted dramatically over the last decade. This has been powered by social media networks, the ease of video editing and the capacity to quickly edit and re-broadcast content created by others.
This new landscape has given parties the ability to shape a different narrative online as to offline. Reused news sources can be heavily edited, allowing for parties to ‘edit the win’. Editing the win sees longer more balanced original sources cut up, shifted about and turned into exciting attention grabbing forms to reach social media audiences.
Parties can now co-opt traditional media content for their own gain. You will never see the leader fail via the parties social media use of these sources. Instead content is airbrushed; claps are extenuated and boo’s are removed. Overall our perception of important democratic events and the political environment is being altered like never before because parties have powerful new abilities to influence the narrative of what occurred. For example, only around 7.3 million people saw the ITV leaders debate on the TV, but millions more have seen the debates through cut-up partisan videos on social media. This opportunity to reshape millions of voters narrative’s of an event they may never have watched is a blessing to the parties. As such, political parties have been gifted a editable, free and instant source of content which merges mainstream media credibility with social media virality. However, unlike mainstream media organisations that feature balance and media standards, parties are not held by such ideas. Thus with this power to alter the narrative, the parties have taken liberties. In two recent infamous examples the ability to alter and chop content down to the bone was made particularly clear.
In early November the Conservatives heavily edited Good Morning Britain content to make an Keir Starmer look lost for words. The party was accused of “doctoring” the original content, and clearly used the content with little interest in any original truth the video had.
More recently during the Channel 4 #climatedebate the party released cut-up footage from BBC news. In the video impartial journalists such as Laura Kuenssberg and Huw Edwards are used to repeat the Conservative attack line of a ‘chaotic Parliament’. The party was intentionally politicising media figures further feeding into the public’s political division and media mistrust.
The Conservatives were using the voice of journalists as their own, treating public service broadcasters like puppets on a string, through ‘editing to win’ the content. Both instances have widely received criticism from the broadcasters whose content they used. However, the use of a figure such as Laura Kuenssberg shows the little consideration the Conservatives place in how they are using altered content such as this. The party are helping feed into the anti-BBC narrative that has taken hold across the left, as Kuenssberg has come under constant attack for being supposedly biased against Labour. This activity by the Conservatives opens up further division, damages the BBC and plays into a politically polarising narrative.
This video has now been banned by Facebook for “infringing on the BBC’s intellectual property (IP) rights”. In response the Conservative’s asserted that “all political parties make use of BBC content. We will be asking the BBC if in the interests of fairness they intend to complain about other political parties who use their content”.
The party are correct, Labour also edits and re-uses others content, as do the Liberal Democrats and all the other political parties. Although these two examples are the most visible, ‘edit the win’ reuse of other news organisations content is a ubiquitous process.
Overall, the current situation cannot continue as we are in a grey area where the parties being left to do what they wish without lines of control or repercussion. On the one hand Facebook (via the BBC’s copyright claim) is limiting political parties freedom to use broadcaster content. This is problematic as it brings issues of partisanship into how content is used and diminishes the freedom of the internet. It is very hard to draw the line of what is acceptable, but arbitrarily banning one party from using content but not others, appears to not be even handed. The freedom to use broadcaster content also brings into question values brought up during the EU’s Article 13 debate, are we the public going to get punished for posting edited BBC content?
The BBC and Facebook’s actions brings into focus the real need for clear regulation and written rules of conduct in both how news coverage can be used, as well as any protection of sentiment or message that this content should have if being reused. There is a delicate balance to be struck, but it is vital that we make clear the rules by which the parties can use national and other organisations content. Clearly parties should be held to higher standards than the public at large, especially in their use of broadcaster content via targeted ads. Consequently we must push to re-establish norms that previously existed, with the parties not allowed to play fast and loose with broadcaster content, but still able to utilise it.
Campaigners should respect other media sources, be honest with the content used and be true to the values it was originally intended to support. The deliberate politicisation of balanced media sources is not a route we want to allow to flourish. If we want to avoid countries such as the United State’s current media polarisation, we must promote and protect the core values at the heart of organisations such as the BBC, this also means protecting the content they create when it goes online. We must enact change now if we want to avoid the undermining of public impartial content, provide quality content online and protect the boundary between propaganda and truth. Thus the necessity for fact checking of Facebook advertisements is imperative, with fact checking now needing to examine the cut up content used as well as the facts and data used more generally.