It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any photograph which doesn’t fit your political viewpoint must have been photoshopped.
A few weeks ago, as I was driving down the M40, I saw a giant “Vote Leave” poster with a fairly repulsive message on it.
Saw a disgusting "Leave" billboard by the motorway saying "Halt ze German advance!"
One of the many reasons I'm #StrongerIn
— Terence Eden (@edent) May 19, 2016
I was immediately pounced on by people who thought I was making it up in order to discredit the Brexit side. So, the next time I passed it, my wife snapped a few photos.
— Terence Eden (@edent) May 28, 2016
The response was an endless cacophony of deluded shrieking.
It fell in to four main camps. Deny, delight, disparage, dumb.
“OMG! You FAKED this. I can tell by the pixels!”
Yes, apparently I am a master of photo editing. The number of people who have seen CSI one too many times and can apparently tell what a fake looks like is astounding. Here are two of my favourites.
Sorry, can't see any supports for poster and perspective looks wrong
— Simon Carswell #FBPE (@SimonCarswell) May 28, 2016
.@tristangraylibd It slopes relative to the other text and the border. Sorry.
— Decentralise Dog (@decent_doge) May 28, 2016
Of course, they mysteriously went silent when confronted with the video evidence:
…and for those of you who think that I Photoshopped the image in order to smear your cause – here's my dashcam vid: pic.twitter.com/nxYttc8wWT
— Terence Eden (@edent) May 29, 2016
Of course, there were those who thought the whole think was hilarious.
“Mate! It’s just banter mate! Two World Wars One World Cup Doo-Dah! Can’t you take a joke? Don’t mention the war, eh! Do you get it? IT’S FUNNY!”
Don't the 'ze' and exclamation mark suggest humour? Like Basil Fawlty. #BrexitTheMovie speaks highly of Germany since WWII @JonathanRWarner
— (((Richard Drake))) (@rdrake98) May 29, 2016
grow up – it's just a bit of fun with our favourite opponents
— Mayor of West Yorks (@Colin00007) May 28, 2016
I have to just say, although it's not funny, it's just a joke. Like Allo, Allo! Don't worry about it.
— Michael Roberts (@michealjroberts) May 29, 2016
And the ever popular “it’s a joke because it’s true.”
1. It's a joke, get a sense of humour. 2.EU is 3rd attempt at European Unity.Like 1914 & 1939, the impetus for it is German. #Brexit
— Jon White (@Jon_White99) May 28, 2016
Let’s ignore rising tensions, start antagonising our neighbours, and make ourselves look like idiots. Archbishop of Banterbury grade material right there…
Then there are those who think that this is a hoax. That it, the poster is physically real, but it has been put in place by pro-Remain supporters. Or possibly a rogue faction of the Leave campaign.
— Taking Back Control..NO DEAL (@SpencerHills2) May 29, 2016
This is NOT created by the leave campaign. It is by a remain supporter using dirty tricks.
— The_Dogz_Bollocks (@doggywoggydooda) May 29, 2016
Everyone knows it’s a “false flag!”
Either way, it’s just one poster. God! Stop being so…
"It's just one rogue poster!" They scream.
Here's another, several miles later. pic.twitter.com/xOEsP1ntjs
— Terence Eden (@edent) May 29, 2016
That second poster is in a different field – several miles away from the first. Interestingly, someone has obscured the word “German” in this one.
Another "Stop ze German advance" Vote Leave poster. Someone's taped over "German" on this one. Vote Leave logo clear pic.twitter.com/Z6bAmaZm1X
— Mark Henderson (@markgfh) May 28, 2016
As well as the various fanatics who can’t make a post on Twitter without #important #EUliars hashtags and links to poorly produced “documentaries” – were those who were so outraged at my temerity to question their politics that all semblance of spelling and grammar went out the window.
Blackadder: Baldrick, have you no idea what irony is?
Baldrick: Yes, it’s like goldy and bronzy only it’s made out of iron.
It’s quite amazing how bad Twitter is for any form of discussion. It quickly degenerates into name-calling and attempted smears.
Jesus mate. Grow up. It's not an official Vote Leave poster. What part of that does your tiny brain not understand?
— Iain Dale (@IainDale) May 29, 2016
Mind you, USENET wasn’t much better back in the day…
What’s also interesting is how I didn’t receive any threats – or gendered abuse. I see women posting less controversial comments who are then subject to a torrent of vile abuse. At worse I was called “naive” and a “lamb” – which is touchingly patronising.
I’m a reasonably tough bloke – but waking up to hundreds of angry messages is still intimidating. Mind you, it was counterbalanced by an outpouring of support.
There’s a serious point under all this. Our new digital world means it is easier than ever to manipulate photographs and videos.
Take a look at this – it is nothing short of terrifying!
It’s extremely good to be sceptical. But I’m not sure that an army of amateur sleuths are best placed to determine the truth.
You are welcome to download the original photos if you’d like to look for evidence of manipulation.
Is This Illegal?
The reason I stopped on the hard shoulder was because I wanted to capture evidence of what I suspected was a crime. Surely stirring up this level of hatred must be against the law. Right?
The Advertising Standards Authority seem like the right people to complain to.
…we can’t look into complaints about political ads – they’re not subject to the Advertising Code. The best course of action for anyone with concerns about a political ad is to contact the party responsible and exercise your democratic right to tell them what you think.
We can’t, therefore, look into complaints that political ads are misleading, harmful or offensive.
ASA Statement on Political advertising – 21 July 2014
Brilliant. So you can basically lie as much as you want in a political advert. Perhaps the Electoral Commission can help?
We frequently receive complaints about political advertising or campaign material and the behaviour of candidates, especially in the period before an election. These are not within the scope of the complaints policy and will be referred to our Public Information Team.
While we have regulatory duties relating to campaign spending, including in relation to political advertising/election material, we have very few powers to deal with the content of material published by candidates and parties, or their general conduct. In most cases we will not be able to deal with such complaints, which should instead be made directly to the party or candidate responsible for the material.
If you feel that the content of the material may constitute a criminal offence, you should contact the police. Every police force has a dedicated Single Point of Contact officer (SPOC), who may be contacted about such allegations.
The Electoral Commission – Complains
So, is this offensive poster an offence?
it looks like an offence under referendum rule 16.1.41
This should be reported to the police by dialling 101.
— Phil Dunn – Lib Dem 🇪🇺👍 (@PhilDunnLD) May 28, 2016
1.41 Under the Public Order Act 1986, it is an offence to publish or distribute threatening, abusive or insulting material that is intended to stir up racial hatred or which is likely to stir up racial hatred.
The Germans are not a specific race. So it’s hard to say that this breaches that specific regulation.
…And with that, I’m at somewhat of a loss. Whoever has put of this poster it’s not clear to me whether they are committing a crime, or are just relishing in offensiveness.
For now, I’m leaving it to the media to investigate – Buzzfeed generously paid for the photograph and have run a story on it, as did The Metro.
Of course, Vote Leave are denying that they are responsible. But that doesn’t pass the Mandy Rice-Davies test.
Please – register to vote before it’s too late.