Brexit results show how a divided nation ended up making a radical decision with little factual knowledge. Timea Klebercz’s blog post offers insight into the reasons that led to Brexit, and supporting the evidence she presents, I delve deeper into the case with further evidence. Also, due to significant elections taking place all across Europe, Brexit should not be analysed without careful consideration of lessons we can learn, so advice to communication specialists can be found at the end.
A divided nation
Danger of fake news
Klebercz is right to highlight the partisan role of the British press, which resulted in frames that turned the vote into a good vs. bad competition with sensationalist headlines and little facts. Running up to the referendum, the Leave campaign focused on a rhetoric of ‘Keep it simple stupid’, building an anti-EU narrative via sensationalist headlines, easily misinterpreted messages and an array of fake news. Because of journalists’ lack of time to verify information, PR professionals are also responsible for countering these tactics by producing factual knowledge. Two separate studies, in which in-depth interviews were conducted with British public relations professionals and journalists, discovered that half of current news relies on PR material, thus highlighting the importance of providing information that avoids misinforming the public.
A thorough overview of the role of framing shows that issue-specific frames tend to link to an underlying master frame, and cultural themes often invite particular ways of information processing. Therefore, I believe that the frames Klebercz presents need to be linked to a narrative that PR professionals and the British press developed throughout the years, with even the ‘neutral’ BBC often discussing the issues of the EU rather than opportunities it provides. The Remain side lacked a coherent response strategy strong enough to resonate with voters, thus letting Brexit supporters tap into these cultural news frames.
Domination of online tools
Klebercz didn’t touch upon the Leave campaigns heavily targeted social media messages, which I see as crucial in their campaigning. An exhaustive analysis of over 1 million Brexit posts discovered that social media shape opinions, but selective exposure is pivotal in how information spreads, often resulting in echo chambers of likeminded views. In the Brexit case, Leave supporters commissioned Cambridge Analytica to market messages to the public based on their personality traits which are measured through their digital footprints. Many believe this resulted in online dominance as the Leave message reached enormous amounts of unaware voters. Even Remain voters have acknowledged the social media importance as, according to a survey conducted by YouGov, almost half believe that without it the Remain side would have won instead.
What can be learned?
We as communication specialists are key in improving similar ongoing situations, and what we can learn from Brexit, is to adhere to the following:
- Provide facts. Communication professionals are responsible for relying on facts in order to avoid misinformation.
- Work with the master frame. Prior culture and narrative already exist so they need to be taken into account and utilized.
- Use social media. Whether you work for a governmental organization, a big corporation or a charity, online tools need to be utilized.
Vilma Nurmela is a soon-to-be Political Communication graduate interested in current affairs. She spends her free time exploring independent cinemas, tasting local beer and following various sports. Find out more about her skills and interests on LinkedIn.