Facebook’s Role in Brexit

from TED

In an unmissable talk, journalist Carole Cadwalladr digs into one of the most perplexing events in recent times: the UK’s super-close 2016 vote to leave the European Union. Tracking the result to a barrage of misleading Facebook ads targeted at vulnerable Brexit swing voters — and linking the same players and tactics to the 2016 US presidential election — Cadwalladr calls out the “gods of Silicon Valley” for being on the wrong side of history and asks: Are free and fair elections a thing of the past?


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6 Responses to Facebook’s Role in Brexit

  1. Abdulrafay Amir April 30, 2019 at 10:02 pm #

    The power Facebook has in our society today is tremendous. To think that Facebook could be responsible for the influence of Brexit itself is cause for alarm within our communities. The video added in this article detailed a TED Talk involving a situation where reporters went down to a part of Wales to ask around about the details of Brexit. It is alarming to see that Facebook contributed to sending “direct advertisements” and posts that promote false knowledge about the Brexit situation that lead to these individuals to have the swaying vote in the Brexit decision. What surprised me the most is that Mark Zuckerberg himself refused to give these people information as to how these advertisements were conducted. The points that the lady in the TED talk brought up were very scary to think about. We have no ability to tell who makes the ads in Facebook and who pays for them to be directed to these individuals. The staggering information in this is that Facebook is actually trying to hide information that could help the government figure out the situation that occurred. Even though Facebook has their rights to withhold information, it is crucial to know that there seems to be something that Facebook is hiding. The power that platforms like Facebook gives to individuals is staggering. Being able to sway the minds of people or to make it so that a political party gets what they want is a scary sight.

  2. Tyler Abline September 5, 2019 at 1:17 pm #

    Social media and in particular Facebook have become as important to the news media as other such outlets such as T.V or newspaper. Given that it already has such a large audience, I’m not surprised that they have such a large influence on politics and it’s relatively easy to see how social media can influence people who use it. Since social media is typically consumed more casually than other news outlets people need to take what is said on social media with a grain of salt unless it is backed up by more credible sources.
    Given the amount of influence Facebook has I’m not shocked that they tried to influence the user base with advertisements related to Brexit. Facebook presenting certain information isn’t a problem in my opinion because it is their platform they can post what they want. I have a problem with them withholding information related to their influence which makes it look like they are hiding something. If a company is willing to go out of their way to hide something from a government, it isn’t too much of a stretch to suspect that what they are hiding is bad.
    I think social media platforms should be more transparent in terms of who pays for the ads but I don’t have a problem with people or organizations using Facebook or other social media platforms as a platform to promote ideas and beliefs. If people online make sure to ensure the information they are reading is accurate it could be a good thing to have exposure to new information and different viewpoints. While it is interesting to see the influence Facebook had on Brexit, this type of thing should be expected in the future as it is bound to become more apparent how influential social media is.

  3. Stephen Hoffman September 6, 2019 at 11:26 am #

    “Brexit Day” is quickly approaching, as Great Britain gears up for a break from the European Union after a referendum that narrowly said “yes” to the United Kingdom exiting one of the largest economic markets in the world. This was a movement not promulgated on the grassroots canvassing previously seen in referendums, but rather on social media, as journalist Carole Cadwalladr explains in her talk on the movement. This example is largely indicative of the greater role social media is playing in everyday life. Facebook, after receiving intense scrutiny stemming from its partnership with data-collecting company Cambridge Analytica, was revealed to be using data to target the specific fears of voters to impact their choice. As a society, we tend to believe that participation within these platforms is completely voluntary. If you do not want to sacrifice some of the privacy associated with maintaining a Facebook profile, one has the choice to avoid the problem completely and stay off the site. However, the consequences of remaining offline are not considered when viewing participation in that light. The network effect is largely responsible for the growth of Facebook, as people were considered to be missing out by not being active on the platform. At a certain point, the consequences of staying off Facebook is greater than the consequences of joining, as communication with relatives and friends in different corners of the world quickly became possible. Today business has expanded to incorporate professional development and communication through social media, as the rise of Linkedin has made it nearly impossible to remain competitive in the job market while removing oneself from social media entirely. Considering these factors, does this truly constitute a voluntary system?
    This new change stemming from social media’s forcible entrance into the political realm is one example of significant disruption caused by technology to previously established systems. One element that Cadwalladr raises that should present significant concern to any listener of her talk is the fear that fair and free elections will never truly occur again. She argues that due to the rise of marketing schemes and the spread of fake news, it becomes harder and harder to have an election independent of lies specifically for the profit of these corporations. The companies responsible for this phenomenon have amassed so much wealth and power, to where their executives do not feel it necessary to attend when summoned by the heads of international governments. Social media companies (and many technology companies as a whole) are growing far faster than the legal community can keep up with. By the time a law is passed to handle a new technology or a trend amongst internet-based companies, the same companies have already invented a new product or innovation to get around the legal requirements. This cycle is dangerous, as it jeopardizes the privacy available to average citizens. Combine these factors, and we are left with a relatively unregulated market that requires most members of society to participate in. Facebook’s role in Brexit is one example the evolving technological society we live in, largely driven by profits and influence over ethics and democracy. If this spiral continues, a day in which technological companies have more power than national governments may quickly be approaching, and some would argue it is already here.

  4. Kathleen Watts September 6, 2019 at 4:03 pm #

    Propaganda isn’t a new word, but how it reaches citizens has risen with technology. Historically, propaganda uses big, eye-catching words like “war” and “death” to get the attention of the uneducated and uninformed. During World War II, the Nazis used propaganda to get the support of Germans who otherwise had no way of knowing what was going on in the world or even the atrocities their own dictator was committing. To this day, some Germans deny that the concentration camps even existed. In a similar fashion, political groups in the UK have been using propaganda on Facebook to change how uneducated citizens feel about Brexit. Unfortunately, although they have sold people’s private information, those who work at Facebook have refused to give the information of those paying for these ads, showing just how much they care about money. This is when we remember that they are a business and not a government organization- while it would be lovely for them to hand over these records, they know very well that without a court order, they do not have to. They can keep raking in the money thrown at them as long as they protect the information of those putting these ads up. This just goes to show how the internet can be used to wildly change the opinions of the public. Although, with the advent of the internet people can now more easily research topics, it is far too easy for those people to happen upon articles and posts that are not only misleading, but complete and utter lies. This should be a lot more scary than many people might think it is. The fact that not only Cambridge Analytica but Facebook threatened to sue Cadwalladr and her colleagues in terrifying. Truth does not matter to them. This leads to wild miseducation which becomes dangerous and divisive. The most important thing someone can do in a society is be educated properly on how that society is run. When people can not do that, they fall to the manipulation tactics of those wishing to control them. Without even knowing it, these people are basically forced into allowing those who control them into getting more and more power until the society they control has no way of knowing whether or not the information being fed to them is true or false. In North Korea, for example, people only know what they are told and denying the “truth” given to them could result in torture and death. These powers do not care about individual well-being, they only care about getting power and companies like Facebook are allowing them to do this. . Unfortunately, in this scenario, Britain’s internet laws are at a point where they may be too far behind to fight Vote Leave’s blatant propaganda. People like Cadwalladr are lights in the darkness who are willing to face persecution to get the truth out there. With her and her colleagues, the information she shared might have never been publicly released. We can only hope that people like her continue to stand up and try to teach people that they must properly educate themselves and not believe everything they see online.

  5. Zachary Crockett September 27, 2019 at 3:29 pm #

    Throughout my response, I would like to touch base on the power of Facebook. Facebook has gone beyond a national level. Facebook is a global network that affects the lives of all on this Earth. As such a huge platform Facebook has the ability to promote advertisements. These advertisements go beyond the typical Nike or Chipotle ads. These advertisements divulge deeply in the political realm. In this Ted Talk, journalist Carole Cadwalladr, explains how multiple crimes went on during UK’s vote in 2016 to leave the Union. She provides the law in Britain that there is a set of a limit of revenue used to distribute in advertisements for a candidate in an election. Facebook does not follow this law. Facebook advertisements are unretrievable to the public and only Mark Zuckerberg has the ability to distribute this information, which he has refused to for years because of any amount of money can be spent online. Facebook and other companies similar are black boxes and any amount of money can be used for campaigns because they are unretrievable. Facebook does not present these political ads to just anyone either. Another instance, Cambridge Analytica partnered with Facebook to promote Trump’s campaign. They created a personality quiz that ultimately given when taken gave the company the ability to view the users’ accounts and those of their friends to understand their preferences and push the political campaign in the most optimal way. One promotional tactic they used was finding these individuals biggest fears and so, they promoted advertisements depending on which individual to secure their fears in a sense of Trump’s presidency. Facebook is a very powerful company, but Facebook is using its powers in a harmful and history-altering way. These ways are not for societal gain primarily but for financial gain. All in all, Facebook and other databases should set a standard against what they can show their users.

  6. Danielle B. February 3, 2020 at 10:12 pm #

    Week 1: Facebook’s Role in Brexit

    The term “fake news” has been thrown around many times when it relates to political media, both within the United States and internationally. In this episode of Ted Talk, Carole Cadwalladr discusses her views on how fake reporting has significantly impacted the original 2016 referendum, when Britain voted to leave the European Union by a four percent difference. In the beginning of the talk, she discusses how her hometown of Ebbw Vale has transformed from a coal town into a fancy, upscale small city. Most of the renovations and buildings have been funded by the European Union, which makes Cadwalladr question why the majority of Welsh voters voted towards leaving the European Union. In fact both Wales and England both had a majority vote to leave the European Union, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay. Granted, most of the countries’ votes did not have more than a ten percent difference from each other and was close.

    Cadwalladr explains how after discussing the results with many Brexit supportes, she concluded that fake news that was portrayed on Facebook seemed to be a huge factor as to why the vote for Brexit was successful. As a result, she and others have asked Mark Zuckerberg to release the data of users who have viewed the articles that contain fake news to determine how significant of a role it played in the final vote. However, Facebook has refused to release any data to Britain and has threatened legal action against those who claim that the company purposely targeted citizens to sway towards supporting Brexit.

    Brexit is a topic that is particularly interesting for me because I go to the United Kingdom frequently and I was actually present during the original day that Brexit was supposed to take place, March 29, 2019. When I as there, the British people held peaceful protests and counter protests in Westminster so I was able to see the types of people on each side of the argument. Cadwalladr does not say it directly, but it is somewhat implied that the people who voted in support of Brexit were somewhat ignorant because they had believed the fake news. Additionally, it is also loosely implied that the supports of Brexit are motivated by immigration issues and the recent refugees that have come to the United Kingdom.

    While I am sure that immigration is a huge motivator for the supporters of Brexit, it is not the only motivator. I spoke with people on both sides who supported and opposed Brexit and not only was it a diverse group of people on both sides, but supporters provided multiple reasons as to why they want an independent Britain and many of them did not rely on social media for their information. I definitely agree that fake news is an issue that needs to be dealt with on Facebook’s part, but I also think that it is a bit of a stretch to imply that Facebook is the majority of the reason as to why two out of four countries voted in support of Brexit. Overall, I can definitely agree with the point she makes about how Facebook’s fake news can be detrimental to those who are not fully educated on the issues within their country.

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