Brexit wasn’t just because of social media

This morning’s Observer column:

It seems obvious now that the weaponisation of social media played some role in both the Brexit referendum and the US election. What’s much less clear, however, is whether it was critical in determining the outcome. Personally, I’m sceptical. Our current obsession with digital technology as the trigger for these political earthquakes may actually be a kind of displacement activity. What we’re overlooking is that none of this would have happened if our ruling elites had noticed what four decades of globalisation and neoliberal economics had done to the life chances of many of our fellow citizens.

Nearly four million people in the UK voted for Ukip in 2015, for example, and got just one MP for their trouble. So when David Cameron presented them with a chance to give the neoliberal order a good kicking, they hardly needed their Facebook feeds to tell them what to do. I hope the information commissioner does succeed in unearthing the role of data analytics in Brexit. But even if she does, she’ll only have retrieved one piece of the jigsaw.

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