Facebook is creating an ever more silent majority

Thanks to social media, Britons are becoming enclosed in virtual echo chambers (AP)

“I am so ashamed of my country” is a phrase that litters my Facebook feed today along with statements of moral repulsion hurled at people who voted Leave; statements worded so strongly that the virtual air has turned blue. It’s almost as if the sweary people raging against Brexiters don’t realise or maybe don’t care that this new form of political pond-life might be populated by their friends.

People are understandably upset, and I imagine, even those who gingerly voted Brexit will be wondering if they did the right thing as the economic forecast grows ominous.

But what has the referendum taught us so far?

The first is that we should always be wary of opinion polls. Yesterday we were told Britain would vote to remain in the EU. We were also told last May that according to the pollsters, the election was too close to call.

(On a side note, I think opinion polls released close to or on polling day are electorally imprudent. They risk a bandwagon effect or no vote at all from the more apathetic members of the electorate who are comforted that it will go their way anyway.)

One theory concerning why pollsters got it so wrong last year, was the impact of the “Shy Tory”, voters who were too scared to admit their allegiances were secretly with the Nasty Party. I wonder if the same has happened again with the referendum, which raises a second point; is the impact of social media – especially Facebook – scaring voters into silence like never before?

Mark Zuckerberg’s social network has changed friendships forever. Before, many of us were blissfully ignorant about a mate’s views on Gaza or Europe or abortion, now, thanks to Facebook and Twitter, we are all too aware.

Over the past few years, people who I consider friends have called me every name under the sun, accused me of various kinds of social bigotry; they just didn’t realise that they were talking about me.

But for every person who has become cacophonously political in the comfort of their virtual echo chamber, there are also those who are growing increasingly silent and withdrawn for fear of facing social isolation, nevertheless, their vote still counts on polling day.

Whatever your views on the referendum outcome, I am heartened that despite accusations that this result was driven by “hate” or “fear,” for some individuals voting Leave was inspired by a passionate love of democracy and fairness – even if it meant losing out financially for the sake of this principle.

If you can’t bring yourself to be thankful for this, it is at the very least, worth pondering.