Anti-Brexit activity flooded the media attention market in 2017

Brexit coverage dominated much of the media this year, as we discovered in Kaleida’s 2017 Year in Review where we looked at news and how attention patterns evolved from month to month. One publisher led most of the activity, but alt media sources are on the rise.

While the vote for Brexit may have surprised many in 2016, the backlash was palpable this year in the form of media coverage and engagement metrics. Nowhere is this more dramatic than with the success of The Independent, a national newspaper in the UK that went digital only in 2016.

Anti-Brexit sentiment was a huge theme this year, and they owned the story in the UK.

Seven of the Top 10 stories about Brexit in 2017 ranked by total Facebook engagements were Independent pieces, all of them anti-Brexit in tone. The first clearly pro-Brexit story in the rankings falls deep on the list at number 21.

Interestingly, the source of that story is not one of the mainstream newspapers typically supporting the government’s views such as The Telegraph, The Times or even the Daily Mail. The story is by alt-media source Westmonster, a blog funded by Arron Banks, the leading funder of the Brexit campaign.

Ironically, most of the Brexit stories that have done well for The Telegraph and the Daily Mail are the stories that challenge the support for Brexit or PM Theresa May’s position on it such as “Ruth Davidson planning Scottish Tory breakaway as she challenges Theresa May’s Brexit plan”

Otherwise, coverage by these leading newspapers is not getting the kind of attention they often get for other subjects, particularly compared to the success of The Independent.

The Independent produced 3,694 articles about Brexit in 2017 which accounts for about 5% of their total output. Only The Guardian and The Times produced as many stories. The other leading newspapers produced half that amount. The digital only news sources published less.

On average The Independent’s stories were about 560 words in length, and most stories earned around 50 engagements each. But when they took off they really took off.

The activity pattern across the year for all Brexit coverage was relatively steady with a dramatic dip in the month of May. It was then that the UK election was in full swing, and media attention was clearly elsewhere.

However, immediately following the election in early June and the chaos that ensued a wave of Brexit activity arrived driven increasingly by alt media sources. Westmonster led the pack, but The Canary, Breitbart, Your News Wire, Brexit Central, Guido Fawkes and Another Angry Voice brought engagement growth for Brexit coverage in the months that followed.

Between them these smaller media orgs published about 1,500 Brexit stories. The most successful was Westmonster’s article, “Morrisons vows to only sell British meat — Massive Brexit boost for farmers” with nearly 50,000 engagements. While this is an order of magnitude smaller than The Independent’s top story the trend line is showing increasing relevance both for Westmonster and Breitbart on Brexit issues.

Interestingly, a small dip in the number of reactions (likes, smiley faces, angry faces, etc.) occurred in the late Summer across all Brexit coverage compared with all other coverage, mainstream and alt media alike. Comments and Shares remained steady or even climbed toward the end of the year.

The increases in attention toward the end of the year point to an interesting change on the horizon. While common sense might suggest Brexit is becoming less interesting over time, the numbers indicate that it is in fact more important to people than ever. Perhaps Brexit is a catalyst for other political discussions happening on Facebook. Perhaps the dramatic nature of the issues and the personalities involved is Facebook fodder.

Regardless, the data is clear that attention for Brexit coverage is still driven by anti-Brexit voices, while a pro-Brexit minority is gaining momentum.