Lies, damned lies, and political billboards

by @edent | , , | Read ~726 times.

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.

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.

The response was an endless cacophony of deluded shrieking.

144 notifications-

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.

XKCD cartoon where the character complains that real life is photoshopped.

Of course, they mysteriously went silent when confronted with the video evidence:


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!"

And the ever popular "it's a joke because it's true."

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.

Everyone knows it's a "false flag!"

Dominic Cummings admits poster is from dummies on our side

Either way, it's just one poster. God! Stop being so...


That second poster is in a different field - several miles away from the first. Interestingly, someone has obscured the word "German" in this one.

Xenophobic poster with the word German obscured-


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.

An idiot on the internet misspells the word 'your'

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.

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.

Digital Daze

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?

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.

Campaigning dos and don’ts for EU Referendum campaigners

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.

It has also been picked up by the Evening Standard, the Mirror, and Spiegel Online.

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.

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