EU referendum: What does the social media reaction tell us about coming out in favour of Remain?

Several titles I work with have, over the past week, urged readers to vote ‘remain’ in Thursday’s EU referendum.

Contrary to the popular myth being shared on some parts of social media by Brexiteers, each editor has been free to decide whether their titles should back either side, or remain neutral.

I think the titles which have taken a side – including the Newcastle Journal, Birmingham Mail, Liverpool Echo and Manchester Evening News – are proof that you can take a position on something while still providing balanced coverage.

I think they are also proof, generally, of taking a ‘less is more’ approach to giving your brand an opinion. Leader columns are a thing of the past in most of the titles I work with, and I think that gives the brand more clout when it choose to take a vocal position on something.

But I guess in print, no-one can hear you scream if you disagree with the position a paper takes. That’s certainly not the case online, as the reaction to the positions showed on Facebook:

But for all the full-on comments  (totalling 330 at least count) from people ‘appalled’ at the Mail, I think it’s worth paying attention to the likes. I’ve said before how important I think it is to pay attention to endorsement, and at time of writing the Birmingham Mail’s post on Facebook had been liked by 615 people, with 31 clicking the love button, 7 people the haha button, and 102 the angry button.

Last week, the MEN posted the reasons why it thought Greater Manchester was better off within the EU and out of it:

Again, a first glance at the comments might have been enough to make an editor’s blood run cold. What have we done? All these people so angry at the MEN! But then take a look at the likes – over 2,000, compared to around 250 for the angry emoticon, and three times the number of total comments.

Over at the Liverpool Echo, a similar trend emerged:

491 comments, many angry. But 2.2k likes, and only 128 angry reactions.

So what does this tell us? Well, I wouldn’t suggest it tells us that a vote to remain is guaranteed. And certainly the variety of reactions you can give is still a novelty and therefore clearly not used by a majority of users yet, so comparisons between ‘like’ and ‘angry’ are a bit premature.

But I do think it’s fair to conclude that people only like things they actually, er, like. And stuff which they don’t mind their friends seeing that they like.

And I think it perhaps reminds us of the fact that vocal complaints need to be put in context with the silent majority – something I’m sure many a print editor has had to remember in the face of a vocal reaction to something which can feel overwhelming at times.

The difference, now, of course, is that the silent majority aren’t completely silent – the like button is their way of letting you know they’re with you. And that, for editors, must surely be reassuring.

One comment

  1. Well if I used Facebook, and if I followed the MEN, I would neither have clicked angry, nor would I have written any comment, despite leaning towards the Leave side of the debate.

    Drawing statistical conclusions from things like that is a dubious exercise. People are generally more willing to chime in with a “Like” for something they like than to express outright dislike of something they dislike. Imagine an audience at a public event… most of us either clap enthusiastically, clap politely but unenthusiastically, or stay silent. Few go so far as to boo or heckle.

    Who knows, maybe enough of us are even actually grown up enough to hear an opinion we disagree with without feeling the need to be angry about it?

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