Russian Brexit Influence on Social Media a Loser’s Conspiracy Theory

A few weeks ago there emerged a new conspiracy theory about the Russians have funded a massive pro-Leave social media campaign. I part-prepared a post backing one at Cliscep emphasizing how ridiculous the so-called evidence was for these claims. Last week Facebook announced that the Russian Internet Research Agency had spent a grand total of $1 (73p) on six adverts and Twitter revealed that a total of $1,031.99 had been spent on six referendum-related ads during the campaign.

There are two parts to this post.

  1. Russian Social Media impact on Brexit in context of the wider campaign
  2. The circumstantial evidence that social media was likely to have had a bigger influence on the Remain vote than on the Leave vote.

 

Russian Social Media impact on Brexit in context of the wider campaign

The evidence for the success of the Russians on Twitter in influencing the Brexit result needs to be viewed in the wider context.

First is to check the data in support of the argument. As Geoff Chambers pointed out @ 

Second is to look at the other tweets. The bot accounts were not the only source of tweets supporting Brexit. Further, there were quite a lot of tweets in the support of Remain.

Third, is that there are other sources of news/information/propaganda in support of both sides in the campaign. What about the official campaigns? Or the support of international political leaders or International Organisations (e.g. IMF, EU) or businesses? Would a majority of the British public really prefer the opinions of a Twitter Bot over those of President Barak Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister David Cameron, the British Treasury, celebrities like St. Bob Geldof, the majority of British MP’s or most British businesses?

 

Which side of the EU Referendum did social media influence more?

It is very difficult to tell the actual influence of social media on the vote, but there is strong circumstantial evidence that the influence will have been more towards increasing Remain vote rather than the Leave.

First is from the age spread of the vote. I believe that Twitter and other social media use is inversely related to age. Therefore, one would expect that if there had been undue influence, the young would have voted more for Brexit than the older folks. Lord Ashcroft’s Polls surveyed 12,369 on EU Referendum day and published on 24th June under “How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why“.  73% of 18-24 year olds and 62% of 25-34 year olds voted to remain in the EU. It would suggest that the Leave campaign as a whole failed to reach the Twitterati.

From How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why, is the following split by age band.

Second I believe that due to its transitory nature, social media is more likely to have had a bigger influence on in those who made up their mind at the last moment, than those who voted as a reflection of long-held beliefs. But whilst 25% of Remain voters decided in the last week, just 22% of Leave voters did so. So either social media made a bigger influence on the Remain vote, or it had no significant difference at all.

Third evidence that runs counter to a Russian influence through Twitter on the Brexit vote is in the geographical distribution of the Brexit vote. In England and Wales the constituencies that voted most strongly Remain were in inner cities, particularly London, Manchester and Liverpool. The strongest pro-Leave votes were widely spread. But the many of the extreme pro-Leave constituencies in the traditional Labour heartlands in the North of England and South Wales.

I live in Manchester. This encapsulates the divide. The City of Manchester has some of the most pro-Remain constituencies in the country, whilst much of the rest of Greater Manchester was pro-Leave. But as the City of Manchester folks has the most vocal people in the region, along with the most vocal twitterati, it would seem that Greater Manchester is full of Remainers. The estimated vote by constituency gives a quite different picture.

The Leave constituencies are on the margins of Greater Manchester and form the big majority. But the most vocal opinion formers are in central Manchester. Similarly, the most vocal activists nationally are those in London, along with the University Cities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bristol.  Brighton and Manchester are also other centers of activism.

Following the EU Referendum, there was a major online petition to Parliament that wanted to nullify the result by having a 2nd Referendum on different rules.The petition was dominated by those in London and other centers of activism. This was a petition map extract of 00.30 26/06/16.

These same centres of activism dominated the “Prevent Donald Trump making a State Visit” petition at the beginning of this year. Compare the spread of petition numbers by political constituency with the rival petition supporting the state visit. The pale orange areas have proportionately very low numbers of signatories. The red areas have proportionately high numbers. The “Prevents” are mostly in the cities, the “Supports” have a much more even geographical spread.

 

Concluding Comments

The claims that Russian-sponsored social media presence helping tip the scales towards a Brexit vote does not stand up to scrutiny. The actual evidence of spending on social media is negligible; the other forms of media and major leaders were predominantly pro-Remain; the demographics of social media users are very much in line with Remain voters; and online activists are dominated by City-based virulently pro-EU types. The continued Russian conspiracy theory is predominantly from a bunch losers who cannot recognize that most people have different views from their own.

Kevin Marshall 

Jeff Smiths Brexit Denial in South Manchester

I received an election communication from Jeff Smith, the former Labour MP. This is the main message.

 

(Online here)

The middle paragraph forms the core of the unreality of the Labour Party.

Theresa May wants to pretend she called this election because of Brexit, but her real aim is to get a get a big Conservative majority so she can impose more cuts on our schools, NHS and public services. Only a strong Labour Party can stop her. A vote for Labour is a vote for investment in jobs, our local services and out childrens’ future.

Take the first claim

Theresa May wants to pretend she called this election because of Brexit

The Prime Minister is not pretending that she called the election because of Brexit. This was the major reason. To anyone who has followed the news in Britain over the last twelve months, leaving the European Union is the major and most pressing political issue facing this country. The timeline of events fits this narrative. The Prime Minister made the announced the snap election for June 8th on April 18th (Guardian, Independent, Telegraph), just three weeks after the Prime Minister’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk to notifying him of the UK’s intention to leave the EU. This followed a vote in the House of Commons on March 13th sanctioning the triggering of Article 50. On the face of it, Jeff Smith is failing to face reality by making a false claim against his opponent. This false claim is denying the important change to the British Constitution in at least 40 years.

Then the second claim.

..but her real aim is to get a get a big Conservative majority so she can impose more cuts on our schools, NHS and public services.

There is a secondary aim of the Conservatives to balance the eliminate the budget deficit inherited from the last Labour Government. Rather than rapid reductions, the date of balancing the books has been continually put back. In 2010 it was 2015, now it is around 2022. Phillip Hammond takes a more relaxed view of deficits than George Osborne.

Jeff Smith’s biggest fantasy follows

Only a strong Labour Party can stop her.

A strong Labour Party does not exist at the moment. To be strong, the Parliamentary Labour Party need a leader they can unite behind. Jeff Smith, in common with nearly every other Labour Candidate (bar Diane Abbott), does not once mention the leader in his literature. Last June 172 MPs voted Yes to a no confidence motion in Jeremy Corbyn against 40 who voted No. Nearly all of the most experienced MPs refuse to be in the Shadow Cabinet. Further, the leader has always been opposed to some policies in the Labour manifesto, such as renewal of Trident Nuclear Weapons, or anti-terrorist legislation. Corbyns’ closest allies include closet Marxist John McDonnell and a Shadow Home Secretary who is unrepentant about her past support of IRA terrorism. A strong leadership would discipline MPs who defied a party whip, Under normal circumstances anybody who defied a three-line Whip on the most important vote in years would be disciplined. In particular, any member of the front bench team or party whips who defied the Whip would be sacked. Jeff Smith, a party whip. defied the whip on Article 50, did not honorably resign and was not sacked. Jeremy Corbyn is too weak a leader even to control his own MPs.

Why Brexit denialism?

Why should a Labour candidate, who is acutely aware of the wider political realities, blatantly deny those realities by making false accusations? The answer lies in the results of the EU Referendum. In 2015 Labour won 22 of the 27 constituencies in Greater Manchester. Using Chris Hanretty’s estimated referendum results by constituency, I have created a graph of the referendum results for the 2015 Manchester Labour Constituencies, with the most pro-leave on the left descending to the least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 16 of the 22 Labour constituencies in Greater Manchester. the estimated Leave vote was greater than the 51.9% National Result. The three most anti-Leave constituencies are in the centre of Manchester. It is Manchester Withington, where Jeff Smith is seeking re-election, that most anti-Leave in the area. Geographically and politically within Manchester, the pro-Leave constituencies are on the periphery, whilst the three most pro-Remain are at the centre. This is a metaphor for the Labour Party itself over Brexit. The current visible leadership team of the Labour Party (Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott) are all from London, one of three regions to vote to Remain in the EU. The other nine regions, with three-quarters of the UK population, voted to Leave. Yet a disproportionate proportion of the Labour Membership are both virulently pro-EU and London-based.

A Yougov survey looking at the how people voted in the EU Referendum, estimated that 65% of those who voted Labour in 2015, voted for Remain in 2016. These results seem to contradict the results in the Greater Manchester Labour constituencies. But this is not the case. Even with the possibility that a smaller proportion of Manchester Labour voters supported Remain than nationally, there is still the fact that in many Labour constituencies, the non-Labour voters were massively pro-Leave. This puts the Labour Party candidates in a quandary. Support Brexit, going against their beliefs and alienate the Labour Party membership and many of their core voters. Disrespect the result of the Referendum, and the majority of their constituents will be strongly motivated to vote for someone else. Either way they lose. So Labour Candidates can either, like Jeff Smith, openly deny the reality of Brexit, or deliberately exclude any mention that is happening. 

Kevin Marshall