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Prophets and loss: how "soft facts" on social media influenced the Brexit campaign and social reactions to the murder of Jo Cox MP

Dobreva, Diyana, Grinnell, Daniel and Innes, Martin ORCID: 2020. Prophets and loss: how "soft facts" on social media influenced the Brexit campaign and social reactions to the murder of Jo Cox MP. Policy and Internet 12 (2) , pp. 144-164. 10.1002/poi3.203

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This article examines “soft facts” about security issues in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign. Soft facts arise when information provenance is uncertain, and are forms of malleable and contingent knowledge, such as rumors, conspiracy theories, and propaganda. There is a growing appreciation that digital communications environments are especially conducive to the dissemination of these kinds of information. Informed by empirical data comprising forty‐five thousand nine hundred and fifty‐seven data points collected by monitoring social media before and after the UK Brexit referendum campaign (June 16–October 12, 2016), the analysis examines how and why a series of soft facts concerning Brexit were mobilized. By developing the concept of “digital prophecy,” the article explores how influence is exerted by online prophets who were connecting current events to past grievances, to advance negative predictions about the future. This starts to capture the tradecraft of digital influencing, in ways that move beyond the structural topologies of communication networks. In policy terms, the analysis reminds us of the need to attend not just to how influence is achieved through fake news (e.g., using social media bots to amplify a message), but also why influence is sought in the first place.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Crime and Security Research Institute (CSURI)
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1944-2866
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 June 2019
Date of Acceptance: 6 March 2019
Last Modified: 04 May 2023 03:04

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