On 23rdJune 2016, the Brexit referendum was held to decide the permanence of the United Kingdom (UK) in the European Union (EU). There was a turnout of 72.2% and the results were close, as 51.9% of the citizens voted to leave, against 48.1% that wanted to stay.
Despite this outcome, the decision came as a surprise to many. However, we have to take into consideration that, nowadays, there is a wave of misinformation that has the ability to influence political opinions.
Technology is a powerful political weapon that targets people specifically according to their psychological profile. In this case, both “Remain” and “Leave” campaigns were accused of making misleading claims.
For instance, a “Remainer”, Alan Johnson claimed that “Two thirds of British jobs in manufacturing are dependent on demand from Europe”, while analyzing outdated information made by the Centre of Economics and Business Research. Therefore, this comparison was not possible, making his statement incorrect.
On the other hand, the “Leave” campaign was much more aggressive and with a considerable amount of inaccurate and deceiving claims.
The ideas of hatred and xenophobia against migrants were able to spread due to the disinformation environment that lied within the British press. There were many first pages published that perceived migrants as a threat to the UK safety. So, the only way to fight this would be by exiting the EU.
This idea of distrust in Europe was spread numerous times and was fed by fake and misleading propaganda such as:
An anti-immigration billboard that was very controversial. It shows a queue of refugees hoping to reach Europe and claims “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all”, appealing to vote “Leave”. This poster was similar to fascist propaganda and promotes racial hatred, fear and urgency to vote.
The adverts “Turkey(population 76 million) is joining the EU” and “Britain’s new border is with Syria and Iraq” were spread during the “Leave” campaign. The goal was to have stricter immigration legislation. However, this claim was false, as, at that time, negotiations between Turkey and the EU were in the first stage of a very slow process that is ongoing for more than 30 years and depends on the agreement of all EU members.
Another controversial and popular statement: “We send the EU £350m a week. Let’s fund our National Health Service instead”. This was considered a “clear misuse of official statistics” by The UK Statistics Authority, as it did not take in consideration the amount of money that the UK receives from the EU. The actual number would be £250 million a week.
Other “Leave” ads stated that the EU wanted to ban tea kettles, regulate apps like Uber and restrict on-demand platforms such as Netflix. Also, it was said that photos in the London Eye would be banned by the EU. The environment and animal rights are also victims of these misleading campaign, as some suggested that the EU prevents people from protecting and speaking about polar bears.
To conclude, all these claims needed to be clarified as they are misleading and some even completely false and contributed to voters’ misinformation and ignorance. In fact, an indication of this is that one day after the referendum the most searched question in the UK on Google was “What does it mean to leave the EU” and right after that was “What is the EU?”. So, it is clear that misinformation is influencing political decisions and we need to tackle it.