If we were to poll opinions for what has been the biggest topic of discussion over the last three years in the United Kingdom, without any shadow of a doubt, it would be Brexit which has trended most frequently across all social network channels. The ongoing Brexit debate in the UK has also highlighted the power and importance of social media.
As political parties now prepare for European Elections, it’s inevitable that Brexit and the question to ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ will be the focus of campaigning. According to the latest Brexit betting, there’s still a 4/9 chance the UK will leave the European Union in 2019, which means that all sides of the argument will be campaigning fiercely to have their voice heard. The main battleground where the campaign is likely to be waged, will be via social networks.
The 2016 Brexit Referendum asked the UK populace two simple questions; whether they preferred to ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ a part of the European Union. Interestingly, the most traditionally reliable opinion polls all agreed that while the vote would be very close, they also predicted that ‘Remain’ would maintain a majority ahead of the ‘Leave’ campaign, based on polling data running up to the referendum.
When the Electoral Commission announced the 2016 Referendum results, the ‘Leave’ campaign winning the popular vote came as a great surprise. However, during a 48-hour period running up to the referendum, the polls were turned on their head by a spike in popularity for the ‘Leave’ campaign which hadn’t been predicted. The polls had also ignored the power of social networks, which the ‘Leave’ campaign had used to their advantage.
Ultimately, the Electoral Commission found that the ‘Leave’ campaign had broken electoral law, spending far more than was permitted during their campaign. This included a late boost in targeted Facebook adverts, which was revealed in a High Court challenge along with evidence of manipulation in social networks to help sway the vote.
The County Court has today rejected https://t.co/JFd2UeRquB’s appeal of the Commission’s findings in relation to their EU Referendum campaigning activity. See our statement below pic.twitter.com/J4KyOc2duw— Electoral Commission (@ElectoralCommUK) March 21, 2019
However, according to High Court judges, the result couldn’t be overturned as the referendum had been ‘advisory’ and therefore, not legally binding. Nevertheless, the government had still used the result as a mandate to trigger Article 50 and the Withdrawal Agreement, setting out a timeframe to leave the European Union, despite also acknowledging the legal findings.
Statistics suggest the number of social media users in the UK has hit an all-time high, with 83% of the population now using the wide variety of social media channels available. 54% of those users prefer Facebook according to the most recent YouGov polls, Instagram and Google+ rank equally at 41%, while Twitter at 39% is continuing to climb in popularity.
Social networks have also been particularly important as ‘Remain’ campaigners have sought to block Brexit. Following indecision in Parliament, plus the court case challenging the validity of the ‘Leave’ campaign, ‘Remain’ supporters took to social networks in protest. A petition at the official Parliament website achieved a record of over 6 million signatures to revoke Article 50, after going viral. Over 1 million people marched in London to protest, following a strong campaign via social networks.
Three years after the 2016 Referendum and the triggering of Article 50, the UK still hasn’t left the EU. Politicians often mention “the will of the people” in discussions surrounding Brexit, but the upcoming European Elections will once again permit the British people to exercise their democratic vote, voicing their political opinion to offer a current view of Brexit. Social networks will be ablaze with campaigns and opinions, but will this election resolve the Brexit problem? That, of course, remains to be seen.