Chapter 27: Fact-checking false claims and propaganda in the age of post-truth politics: the Brexit referendum
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This chapter examines the claims that the current age is one of post-truth politics, where politicians not only lie, but do not suffer at the ballot box from being caught out in a lie by the news media. Donald Trump is the paradigmatic case, as a leader who has lied prolifically and with an unprecedented disregard for the truth, whilst retaining a fervently supportive base, but the pro-'Brexit' campaign prior to the British referendum on membership of the European Union (EU) has been raised as a parallel British example. This chapter examines the evidence in support of this characterisation, through a secondary analysis of the literature alongside a small purposive sample of relevant fact-checking articles. The chapter reviews the key factual disputes, misinformation and misrepresentations in the campaign as identified in fact-checking and investigative journalism, and the evidence from polling data that voters were swayed by these claims. It then assesses the extent to which these conclusions made their way into the mainstream reporting, and the role that journalism played in amplifying or attenuating the problematic aspects of the debate. It concludes firstly that misleading claims were made on both sides, but all were more defensible in relation to evidence than Trump's 'bullshitting', and do not represent a departure from established 'spin'. Secondly, there is little evidence that the problematic claims were decisive for voters. Finally, the dominant news framing exacerbated the more propagandistic aspects of the campaigns and marginalised nuanced argument.

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