Disinformation campaign on social media about ULEZ a deliberate attempt at manipulation says Mayor

Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent – “we have no idea who was behind the campaign” – Sadiq Khan

The Guardian reports this morning that “hundreds of thousands of dollars” were spent on an anti-Ulez campaign on Twitter to manipulate the public.

Sadiq Khan is speaking at a conference in New York today (19 September) and is expected to appeal to the big social media companies to meet their responsibilities and “bear down on the attempts to distort truth”.

According to remarks released before his speech, the Mayor is expected to tell the conference:

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on the anti-Ulez online manipulation campaign on Twitter alone” but “we have no idea who was behind the campaign”.

The Guardian says research conducted by the social media analysts Valent in July concluded there was evidence of “an extensive online campaign targeted to undermine support for the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez)” before the Uxbridge byelection.

It found that 48% of the accounts on Twitter, now known as X, mentioning Ulez were created after November 2022, and of those about 90% “exhibited signs of inauthenticity”, using generic names and with a high proportion of fake followers.

Image above: Valent graphic from their report: Evidence of Online Manipulation in UK public Debate

Effort to undermine Ulez ‘just the tip of the iceberg’

Over the past three years, Valent has investigated disinformation and online manipulation in almost a dozen different contexts around the world.

‘In the UK, although we saw indications manipulation was taking place, we struggled to find concrete evidence’ they say. ‘We now know why that is; the manipulation taking place in the UK is much more sophisticated than the hashtag spamming you might find in Africa or the Middle East.’

The effort to undermine ULEZ is just the tip of the iceberg, they say, as they only examined Twitter and Twitter not the most significant platform for disinformation in the UK.

‘Larger manipulative activities might be happening on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and TikTok.’

The research on Ulez was carried out as part of a Labour party investigation as to why they lost the Uxbridge by-election, which they were widely expected to win.

Mayor Khan says he accepts there are “genuine concerns about the impact of Ulez expansion”, but is concerned about deliberate manipulation paid for by unknown sources.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar