Written by: Pooja Gundimeda
Brexit, the name given to represent the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, sent the world and especially Europe, into a frenzy back in 2016. The history between the United Kingdom and the EU dates back to the mid-1940s, when the United Kingdom initially chose not to join the EU during its formation. This decision was considered troubling since the United Kingdom, one of the most powerful states in Europe, would not be a founding member of the EU. The United Kingdom claimed that they would support the EU from the outside, but they did not want their sovereignty to be threatened. Only in 1973, did the United Kingdom finally join the EU. However, on June 23, 2016, the citizens of the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to withdraw from the EU, officially leaving the organization on January 31, 2020.
Brexit not only caused major economic repercussions, but also political and social ones. Though it has been a little over four years since the referendum vote, many wonder what factors caused the unprecedented outcome. Looking back to pre-referendum times, a major factor in the eventual outcome was the Brexit Party’s use of social media to influence the general population’s perception concerning the membership of the United Kingdom with the EU. The Brexit Party utilized “simple messaging, an active social media presence, and an ‘overwhelmingly negative’ attack” to win the elections. By using their resources to spread campaign messages via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the Brexit Party was able to avoid relying solely on the mainstream media, and the bias that came along with it.
The social media campaign was so successful that even though the Brexit Party only produced 13% of all content on Facebook and Twitter, their campaign accounted for 51% of all content shared during that period. The main success of the campaign is owed to the usage of a very clear and emotionally charged message: the United Kingdom must leave the EU if democracy is to be saved. This strategy ensured that there was no confusion about what the party wanted to achieve. The tactic of using simple messaging was very effective and as a result the Brexit Party was able to appeal directly to the audience they were trying to reach. Most users of Facebook and Twitter prefer content that is shorter, as people prefer when a message gets to the point quickly. On both platforms, posts that are on the shorter side tend to have a higher engagement rate. Since the target of the Brexit social media campaign was individuals who spend time on Twitter and Facebook, the Brexit Party wanted to ensure that the overall message of the campaign was straight and to the point and that the audience would not get distracted by long posts or a complex message. Overall, the social media tactics by the Brexit Party cost very little money and resulted in the Party achieving their main goal, the passing of the referendum.
In the 21st century, it is crucial to understand the significant role technology and social media play in global politics. Since social media can globalize the world, politicians all around the world ought to pay more attention to the power this new technology has on influencing policy decisions. Today, both the EU and the United Kingdom are in the midst of discussing a new trade deal that contains rules on how both sides will work, live, and trade with each other. Social media will continue to play a role in negotiations between the EU and the UK, and could even be used someday to influence the UK to rejoin the EU. The CEO of a social media consultancy firm in London has stated that groups that want to influence a campaign, such as the Brexit one, must do two main things to have a successful outcome. They must make the message of their campaign clear and concise, so there is no confusion whatsoever, and they need to direct their social media campaign to different regions and reach different demographic groups. By doing so, a campaign will be able to engage with various voter groups and allow their message to be spread across a large geographic area. The Brexit Party utilized these tactics and was rewarded with the United Kingdom leaving the EU, and if Britain’s pro-Europeans hope to someday rejoin the EU, they must embrace the new importance of social media in political campaigns.