Unless you’ve avoided all forms of social media over the last two years, you’ve probably heard of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union – aptly dubbed ‘Brexit’. The political climate of the UK has been highly publicised since the referendum was announced, and many politicians including Prime Minister David Cameron have stepped down due to the public voting to leave. Brexit has been making headlines consistently as Theresa May attempts to negotiate a deal with the EU, including a report by the BBC stating that the government has spent over £100,000 on social media ads for May’s Brexit deal. Predominantly posted on Facebook, the ads produced were in the form of short videos attempting to explain what effect the Brexit deal would have on those in the UK. There were no videos directly targeting those residing in England, but there were ads for residents of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
The current government are not alone in using social media to promote their cause, as it was revealed last year that the Vote Leave campaign spent more than £2.7m on ads that targeted specific social groups. The Electoral Commission eventually ruled that Vote Leave had actually overspent on their overall campaigning, spending almost £500,000 over the £7m legal limit. Many people took to Twitter to suggest that because of this the referendum vote should be overturned, while others criticised the Electoral Commission for only issuing a relatively small fine to Vote Leave.
However in January this year, the Electoral Commission released a statement on Twitter saying that they have begun implementing changes to the laws regarding digital campaigning which looks to be a step forward in maintaining control of social media campaigns.
Many of my friends are very open about their political opinions within our friendship group as we all follow very similar beliefs in regards to how the country should be run and what needs to be fixed. As such, during the Brexit campaigning stage, several of my friends took to Facebook to post about the importance of voting in the referendum and all upcoming elections. I remember at the time, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of support for the Remainers of the argument and upon reflection, I have wondered whether there was a reason I wasn’t seeing as much content about the Vote Leave campaign despite their significant spending. As a result, the question I want to explore is: To what extent do filter bubbles exist, and did they play a part in how people voted during Brexit?
While I have my own interests in undertaking this project, there are several other factors that influenced my decision to research this topic. The first reason I want to look into this is that social media plays a huge part in global interconnectedness. Over 2.23 billion people use Facebook every month, and Twitter’s monthly user count is around 336 million. With these numbers growing every year, social media has the potential to facilitate the growth of filter bubbles due to their algorithms and content filtering systems (Flaxman, Goel & Rao 2016, p. 299). Social media greatly affects our lives, and if filter bubbles exist within these mediums it may have a greater effect on the future of our countries. Another reason I have for completing this project is if through my research I find that filter bubbles do exist, someone may find a way to exploit the system and use it to push their own agenda. As platforms like Facebook have such a different formation to traditional media and older media technologies, it is much easier for biased and false content to be spread among a large group (Allcott & Gentzkow 2017, p. 211). Exploitation like this could have repercussions in the political world, as a person could create a distorted perception of a potential political candidate and possibly skew election results. This leads me to my final argument for why this research is of significance, which is if people are actively engaging in filter bubbles with the intention of creating a political bias, they are behaving immorally as they could be contributing to the polarisation of politics.
I will be examining the current literature on this topic to determine whether filter bubbles exist, and if they do, how influential they were during Brexit campaigning. I hope to use my research to discover if and where in social media filter bubbles are most prevalent and focus my project on this medium. I would like to do a series of blog posts for this project as I think it is easier for the audience to comprehend if the content is broken down into smaller chunks. Blogging also gives me the ability to use hashtags on my posts to attract more readers and provides me with easy options to share to Facebook and Twitter for more attention.
Allcott, H. & Gentzkow, M. 2017, ‘Social media and fake news in the 2016 election’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 211-236.
Flaxman, S., Goel, S. & Rao, J. M. 2016, ‘Filter bubbles, echo chambers, and online news consumption’, Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 80, no. S1, pp. 299-320.