In 2016, after growing increasingly frustrated with the visible online and offline subterfuge by the Leave campaign, I decided to hit back by fact-correcting one of the campaign’s posters. It contained multiple sweeping statements that I strongly opposed, especially as we are held to such high standards of factual accuracy in the advertising industry, several of which this poster was flouting.
My aim was to highlight the spread of misinformation and opinion by Leave campaigners by presenting a counter opinion.
I knew I couldn't simply correct the poster as this would not create intrigue or a reason for sharing – so I added three things:
1) the persona of a 'youth voter' (created through the handwritten message and loose grammar). In hindsight I may have been slightly aggressive with this, but I was vindicated when exit and subsequent polls showed how differently the over- and under-55s voted.
2) a sense of humour to the responses, something that people could discuss. This meant bending the truth in places, such as suggesting UK visitors to the EU would need visas (though it is a possibility) – which generated the most discussion.
3) a backstory to create intrigue – 'I wasn't the writer, I was simply the finder of the response and I’m sharing it with everyone'. This route is proven to attract more responses, positive or negative, as people feel they can’t offend.
Well, we lost the referendum... balls.
What I learned is that people are happy to share what they believe, and react angrily when confronted with information that is at odds with their beliefs. The 2016 referendum showed us a lot of things, but mostly it showed me how damaging and introspective Facebook has become.
A breakdown of sentiment across platforms:
The original post to Reddit was very well received, and inspired a lot of good communication aided by the natural moderation of upvotes and downvotes – sensible reasoned arguments rose to the top, discussing some of the points raised.
Liberal and central media outlets took the story and commented on it – highliging the gaps in my ‘facts’ too.
On Twitter, a site with a large professional base, I saw a lot of positive comments backing the stance and very few negative.
Facebook saw the most blind sharing, and also the most angry comments. Following the shares allowed me to see a side of the argument that I had not been able to before, and demonstrated how damaging an individual’s Facebook ‘bubble’ can be.