Belfast Telegraph

Party enjoys huge surge in interest ... but falls victim to flood of fake news

By Staff Reporter

A surge in interest in the DUP since the election has thrust them into the spotlight and has been matched by a flood of fake news about the party.

With Arlene Foster's party largely an unknown quantity to the media and public in Great Britain, the party's website crashed on Friday morning as voters and pundits sought to find out more.

The socially conservative party's policies on religious issues, gay rights and abortion, as well as its relationship to paramilitary groups have come under intense scrutiny.

However, others have attempted to muddy the waters with disinformation.

A major focus on social media since the election has been its links to loyalist groups, an idea bolstered by a shared satirical image of a mocked-up mural.

It shows Mrs Foster and the DUP logo placed alongside paintings commemorating the UDA, with the fake image being shared as though it were real. In the run-up to the election, the Loyalist Communities Council - a group linked to the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando - issued an endorsement of the DUP.

However, Mrs Foster responded by saying: "We did not seek that statement, we did not seek endorsement from any paramilitary organisation and indeed I fundamentally reject an endorsement from anyone that's involved with paramilitarism or criminality."

Mrs Foster faced criticism after being photographed with UDA boss Dee Stitt last year. However, the DUP has said that while it condemns paramilitarism, it will work with those in the loyalist community trying to move it away from such criminality.

Also doing the rounds is a video showing a number of the party's representatives, including Mrs Foster, celebrating with a crowd chanting: "We hate Catholics, everyone hates Roman Catholics".

In reality, the video was taken at the party's conference in the La Mon hotel last year, with the sound of football fans chanting added to the video. The representatives had been singing 'Arlene's on Fire' to the tune of Gala's Freed From Desire - a chant popularised during last year's Euro 2016 tournament.

However, at the time the video was criticised for a lack of sensitivity, as the hotel had been firebombed by the IRA in one of the most horrific attacks of the Troubles.

Perhaps the biggest focus on social media has been the party's opposition to the liberalisation of Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

Following an appearance by Owen Paterson on BBC's Radio 4, it was widely claimed on Twitter that the former Northern Ireland Secretary had said changing UK-wide legislation was a concession the Government could make to the DUP.

In reality, what he said was: "You might get a debate I suppose on further reduction of abortion times as medical science advances.

"But the stuff you mention like gay rights and all that, which you're probably referring to, that is all devolved."

Others on social media have pointed to the fact that the DUP are not unique in Northern Irish politics in holding this position, and that it is also SDLP policy.

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