How targeted messaging and new media shaped Brexit campaign

August 26, 2019 12:39
In the lead-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, 'Leave' campaigners in Britain played on citizens' fears about a jobs threat, among other things. Photo: Reuters

I've been watching 'Brexit:The Uncivil War' aired on Channel 4 in the UK. It depicts the lead-up to the 2016 referendum through the activities of the strategists behind the Vote Leave campaign.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Dominic Cummings, the Campaign Director of the Brexit-supporting group, Vote Leave.

The story tells us how big data and new media were deployed to fight a propaganda war.

The drama showed that while the Remain camp was taking the upper hand back then, Cummings found that most people still had concerns even as they supported the idea of staying in the EU.

Some British feared migrants and refugees would take their jobs away, and they also worried about incoming religion conflict.

With that information, Cummings used new media to release analysis and reliable data stir up the public’s panic, such as saying that a massive inflow of labor force would rob many British of their jobs.

One of the main messages of Cummings’ campaign was that the UK was sending 350 million pounds to the EU every week. The claim was made even though the way the figure was calculated was considered very controversial, if not completely misleading.

Social media platforms were flooded with stories about the potential negative outcome of staying in the EU. And voters became overwhelmed by these campaigns, which led to a change in their minds.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 23

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation Chairman