Based on our synthesis of research from academia, investigative journalism and regulatory and political inquiries, we find:
- Extensive use of deception and emotion in campaigning for the 2016 ‘Brexit’ referendum.
- Techniques for targeting citizens with emotive and deceptive information have intensified in terms of granularity of targeting; and remain hidden from the view of the wider community or nation.
- False messages prompt reactions of fear, disgust and surprise, and have a propensity towards recirculation online.
To address this, we recommend:
- That there be incentives for digital political campaigners to act ethically, and for their behaviour to be critically and regularly reflected upon by society.
- Specifically, we recommend the institution of publicly available self-evaluations by all political campaign groups post-elections to: Summarise which audiences were targeted, and with what success; Reflect upon which aspects of the campaign most succeeded in mobilising voters (e.g. specific adverts, messages, themes, memes); Reflect upon whether the campaign gave voters enough information with which to make an informed choice on which to base their electoral decision (i.e. was information true, complete, undistorted and relevant?); Reflect upon to what extent the campaign was civil.
- We further recommend that this self-reporting be incentivised via: An independent panel (of diverse stakeholders, including fact-checkers, academics, and campaigners from opposing sides) to verify, and critically comment upon, the self-evaluations; A kite-mark system to brand the veracity and civility of the campaigning; Ensuring that this is covered by the media, post-election, and that the analysis is available online in a public archive.