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Social Media: The Brexit Battle Ground

30.06.16

One week after the EU Referendum results and we’re all still slowly getting our heads around the idea of leaving the EU after 43 years of membership.

The dust is still settling across the country, though social media has remained something of a political battleground since the results of the vote were announced on the morning of Friday 24th June, with varying trends emerging across the main platforms.

Many have aired their thoughts and frustrations online, shared their political views and even launched petitions in a bid to make their voices heard. As a result, the social media landscape has become a place some would rather avoid.

Activity Peak

Facebook and Twitter referendum activity was high in the run up to voting day, with conversations about the economy and immigration being most prevalent. The chart below from Twitter analysts shows the level of tweets as the campaign progressed:

Credit: Twitter

This was nothing, however, when compared to the torrent of reactionary posts once the result was announced. People took to Facebook and Twitter with mixed feelings of dismay and relief, some saying they feel ashamed to be British and others saying they’re over the moon at the result.

Following these reactions, fresh debates sprung to life among social media users with strongly worded arguments being put forward for both viewpoints. With social media being so easily accessible now, it has become the most popular way of instantly sharing, debating and digesting information.

A week of petitions

Petitions have been springing up all over Facebook and Twitter with their creators demanding varying outcomes. With the most signatures and media coverage is the petition calling for a second referendum, which, as it stands, has been signed by just over 4 million people so far, meaning parliament will have to consider it for debate.

The power of social media has been clearly demonstrated here, with the cause being shared across the country and generating vast numbers of signatures.

Other petitions include one calling to ensure MPs are factually accurate and accountable in public campaigns, following the allegation that the Leave campaign lied to the public about the spending of funds and immigration.

Venturing into the slightly more unusual, two other petitions called for London to gain independence from the UK and join the EU, and for a rematch of the Battle of Hastings ‘because I was unhappy with the result’.

The age debate: #NotInMyName

Social media also became the arena for debate about the age split in voting following the results. Many young voters expressed outrage when it was revealed that 58 per cent of voters aged over 65 voted to leave, while 64 per cent of voters aged 18-24 voted to remain.

Charts, graphs and graphics were posted all over Facebook and Twitter showing the split, sparking a reaction from young people arguing that the older generation had voted selfishly and potentially disrupted the future of the younger generation.

The hashtags #NotInMyName and #WhatHaveWeDone shot into Twitter’s top trends on Friday the 24th and were used over 20,000 times on that day alone.

It seems that social media is now powerful enough to have large-scale effects on the way in which we engage with politics, with studies showing that social media can increase interest in politics among young people in particular.  Everything from engagement levels, to public understanding and even voting patterns are subject to influence through this omnipresent digital social world. 

But could social media be playing another role in the background?

There are some, including digital marketer Jerry Daykin, who wonder if social media channels are threatening to tear us apart as a society, rather than bringing us together. Not only do platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow us to share controversial opinions, there is also the possibility that they are helping to fuel those views.

One of the key issues Daykin discusses is the fact that social media has a natural way of organising us into bubbles of like-minded individuals. People with certain viewpoints can easily seek each other out in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, and this can sometimes fuel the formation of groups with controversial opinions and give them a public voice.

The lack of face-face interaction also makes it easier for people to speak their minds without needing to consider the consequences, which encourages higher levels of animosity and expressions of hatred. This allows situations between individuals or entire groups of people to escalate, potentially creating new prejudices and reinforcing old ones.

Whilst this is a worrying prospect, we can’t ignore the fact that freedom of speech and the wider availability of news and information remains a good thing. Daykin argues this breadth of opinion is essential to agitate and move us forwards, and we’re inclined to agree.

Here at JAM we believe that social media, while needing to be treated with care, is an invaluable medium for sharing and receiving news and information. It can bring us together and create change for the better, even in difficult times such as the ones we find ourselves in today. If you have any questions about how you can use your social media accounts to improve your communication just get in touch at jaime@jampr.co.uk.

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