Could Facebook Hijack a People’s Vote?
Watch what Carole Cadwalladr has to say and share it widely!
I and my wife are British citizens who have lived in Italy for over 40 years. I found myself working for a United Nations organization in Rome in 1970 and we chose to continue to live in this country after retirement a dozen years ago. We had deliberately let our rights to vote in British parliamentary elections lapse, because we felt that it was wrong that we should try to retain a say in shaping governments that focussed essentially on British domestic matters.
The June 2016 EU referendum, however, was a different kettle of fish. It would have big implications for our own lives and also for the opportunities facing our children who were born and brought up in an international environment but who now live and work in England. Like the millions of other British citizens living in EU countries, we felt wronged by not being entitled to vote in the referendum.
Neither of us has ever engaged in political matters but we both felt that, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we should do our best to help to make the case for Britain to stay in Europe. With like-minded friends with whom we met shortly after the announcement of the referendum result, we decided that the best way through which to express our thoughts was to set up a “pro-stay” website. We have posted over 70 blogs on the site, and a number of these have been re-posted here by L4E.We hope that they have helped a few sceptics to gain a better understanding of the benefits that membership of the European Union, in spite of its blemishes, brings to our lives!
Having both been born during the war – and R lost her father in it – we remain hugely grateful to the EU for its influence in nurturing and cementing peace in Europe. We have spent our lifetimes in peace but are deeply concerned that any erosion of the EU’s collective authority, including through the abdication of Britain, could expose our successors to the same horrors of war that were experienced twice by our own parents and millions of their contemporaries. Let us not forget that though the wars that engulfed our parents, though both referred to as World Wars were essentially Europe Wars that erupted because of the absence of regional institutions for fostering trust between neighbouring nations.
In August last year L4E published my rather naïve thoughts on the apparently powerful role that Facebook played in influencing the referendum choices of older British voters, suggesting that it had undermined the natural instincts of grandparents to support their grandchildren’s aspirations.
Much more is now understood about the role of social media in influencing voter behaviour so much, in fact, that I have come to question the value of blogging without twittering and face-booking!
A couple of days ago, friends told me that I should watch a recent TED talk by the intrepid investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr on Facebook’s Role in Brexit and the Threat to Democracy. Rather than try to tell you what she said, I would simply invite you to spend just 15 minutes to listen to her extraordinary – and deeply disturbing – story. It is a story that has huge implications for the outcome of any Peoples’ Vote. Various polls suggest that there is an ongoing shift in public opinion towards support for staying in Europe as more people learn about the negative effects on their lives of any Brexit. Carol’s exposure, however, suggests that, if the ‘Leave’ camp resorts to its 2016 campaigning methods, this could well not be reflected in actual voting behaviour on the day of a referendum.
What can we do?
There are four directions to be taken simultaneously to reduce this risk.
The most obvious is to tighten up the rules governing the use of social media in democratic processes and to strengthen the enforcement powers of the responsible institutions, especially the Election Commission. The People’s Vote Campaign and its members should be lobbying MPs to move fast on this ahead of a second referendum, even if this is unlikely to succeed as technology developments and subterfuge seem bound to keep ahead of regulatory capacities.
The second is to induce the social media corporations to engage in self-regulation so as to strengthen their image as being “forces for good” in the world. It lies within their technical capacity to impose constraints on how their systems are used but, given the possible negative effects on revenue, they are unlikely to move in this direction unless demanded to do so by their members and by the big campaigning organizations such as Avaaz.
The third is to warn voters of the danger of being duped by social media campaigns. One of the best ways of doing this is for readers to share Carole’s revealing video as widely as possible.
Finally, those who are campaigning for Britain to stay in Europe should invest heavily in using the same social media systems as their opponents but carefully observing the prevailing laws. This is the goal of Project Hope and I believe that, if we endow them adequately, they will have the capacity to assure the outcome we want from a second vote.