Even allowing for the way that politics has always been a dirty business, few general elections have been as disappointing as this one. Given the scale of the challenges facing the nation, and the momentous nature of the decisions that will be taken in the coming months and years, the dismal standard of debate, and in particular the prevalence of so much deliberately misleading and fraudulent material online has been deeply dispiriting. Our politics, with rare exceptions, have certainly failed to rise to the occasion.

Take the torrid “punchgate” affair. Respected journalists were briefed by a Conservative party source, or sources, that a Labour activist had thrown a punch at one of the health secretary’s aides during a visit to Leeds General Infirmary. They tweeted the news too readily. To adapt an old saying, the lie was halfway around the internet before the truth had got its boots on. There was, as a video proved, no such punch, and the tweets were withdrawn, and apologies offered. The net effect, however, was to distract the attention rightly being paid to the plight of a four-year-old boy, Jack Williment-Barr, forced to lie on the floor because of a shortage of beds.

Then came the bots: bogus Twitter accounts sending identical messages – supposedly from a friend of a nurse at the Leeds hospital – suggesting that the whole story of the boy on the floor had been an elaborate hoax. When in fact it is the tweets themselves that are hoaxes. A political party may or may not be behind these tweets, but it looks extremely suspicious, and the political motivation behind it is obvious. Much the same may be said about the leaked documents about Brexit and the US trade talks that made their way onto the internet and then into the hands of the Labour Party.

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