Sunday, June 26, 2016

Social media and the Brexit autumn

The Arab Spring in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt was dubbed the 'Twitter revolution' because of the role played by social media, and social media activity is now central to political strategies. Following the Leave victory in the UK EU referendum, considerable attention is being paid to the role of age, education and other demographics in the split between Leave and Remain. But to my knowledge there has been no attempt to correlate propensity to vote Leave with social media usage. Analysis shows that those over 60 were most likely to vote Leave, and, those with a higher level of education were more likely to vote Remain. So in the absence of empirical data I am proposing that as social media usage is highest among the young, well-educated and socially mobile, it is highly likely that Leave voters have a materially lower usage of social media.

It is acknowledged that phenomenological as opposed to virtual events provided the tipping points in the referendum; notably the now apparently disowned promise that £350million a week would be spent on the NHS if the UK backed a Brexit vote, and Remain's misguided highly negative 'campaign of fear' strategy based on the message that a vote for Leave would trigger a recession and cost UK households an average £4300 a year. It is also acknowledged that old-school media in the form of personal appearances, TV interviews and tabloid press coverage played a pivotal role in the Leave victory; a victory after which Sun editor Tony Gallagher commented: “So much for the waning power of the print media.”

Which leads me to contend that social media did not play a decisive role in the EU referendum. But moreover I propose that the inflated view of social media's ability to trigger change is both misleading and dangerous. That proposition is relevant both to classical music's ongoing digital fixation, particularly as the age profile of its core audience mirrors that for Leave voters, But far more importantly, my proposition is very relevant to the forthcoming US presidential election. The chattering classes have been replaced on both sides of the Atlantic by the twittering classes, who have failed to notice that the only audience for their twittering is fellow social media addicts. An apocryphal definition states that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yet with Brexit almost a done deal, the twittering classes continue to repeat the same thing over and over again in the hope of a different result - see header graphic. All those on Facebook and Twitter who are similarly reprising rants againt Donald Trump et al hundreds, if not thousands of times, should learn the Brexit lesson of the voting power of the social media-lite cohort before is too late.

Yes, Brexit is insane. But the social media lamenters should heed Daniel Barenboim's wise words: "There are now two possible reactions. To lament Brexit and watch extremist movements in other countries such as France and the Netherlands seeking to follow the example of Great Britain. Or, to think about necessary improvements for the EU and to work together towards a true spirit of unity and collaboration, especially in finding a global solution for the refugee crisis and not an exclusively European one".

Header graphic via NPR. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). And yes, ironically On An Overgrown Path is also on Facebook and Twitter.

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