31 January 2019

The "People's Vote" might have a people problem - here's why

Despite gaining support from visibly large crowds of people in the UK, the "People's Vote" campaign for a second Brexit referendum vote demonstrates serious problems engaging with the broader British public on social media.

Local chapter pages of the "People's Vote" movement based on Facebook have insignificant numbers of followers and unremarkable levels of engagement, with the only page with a significant following being a single page that makes heavy use of advertising, titled People's Vote UK. In the case of this page itself, more problems appear.

Looking to the page's posts and the responses is no useful way to assess how British people actually perceive its message, since these posts are likely to have been shared by pro-EU groups and individuals. However, the group does target ads to the general public, and here its claims of popular support begin to look dubious.

Negative comments are being left when the ads appear in people's news feeds

Most visitors to People's Vote UK social media pages are leaving positive comments, but the majority seems to shift to negative comments when the group tries to target the broader public with advertising through news feeds. The resulting barrage of negativity has an effect of drowning out the voices of exasperated EU supporters, who can't tell why they are suddenly faced with offensive comments.

This could be the work of trolls trying to demoralize the pro-EU movement in the UK. But, if so, why are such comments only flooding the page's content when the group tries to advertise to the public? One explanation is that the negative response to the People's Vote campaign actually originates with the campaign's own target audience - the British public.

What is described above hints that the poll data supposedly showing a shift in favor of the UK remaining in the European Union could be dodgy, and there are numerous ways such data could be seriously flawed.

"Leave" may simply have turned quiet and content in their victory, rather than actually losing supporters as the "Remain" camp is fond of claiming. When directly provoked by flooding their news feeds on Facebook they do appear to respond viciously as described above.

Data favoring "Remain" could be flawed because, as well as more eagerly taking part in polls, EU supporters never stopped campaigning. This creates the unrealistic sensation that they have more influence or power, or have now won the debate. Their desire to keep their cause alive through constant adverts, polls, petitions, columns, etc. is clear. The "Leave" campaign, in contrast, is undertaking no similar project to maintain public backing and isn't even watching the polls. Their sole position is that the debate is over and they already won.

So, even if polls and news stories supporting a people's vote do show an accurate cross-section of the population, these are a poor basis to predict a pro-EU victory in a second referendum. The anti-EU side has yet to counterattack or produce its own new slogans and talking points, as it is too busy in power. A decisive lead for pro-EU forces in the polls, while the other side is not campaigning, might become irrelevant as soon as the other side begins a counter-campaign if its plans are really contested.

Treat all this as speculation. Unfortunately, comments on Facebook ads are extremely difficult to capture or prove because Facebook withholds the data once ads go inactive and takes them out of the page's feed itself, allowing posts that receive negative responses to quickly be buried while the page only displays posts that received positive responses. However, you can easily view the comments for yourself if you catch the ads while they are running or see them in your news feed.

Don't take our word for it. Give it a go!

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