This is what #Brexit and #Remain look like from the point of view of a fact-checker

Today marks the day of the British referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union. I recently wrote to Will Moy, director of the British fact-checking website FullFact, to ask a few questions about misinformation during the debate about #Brexit/#Remain.

JV: Can you name one or two most common misconceptions Britons have about the EU?

Will Moy: Good examples can be found from a survey we did with Ipsos MORI.

The immigration debate is very important to people in the UK, and seeing people estimate that 15% of people in the UK are from elsewhere in the EU was striking. The correct figure is 5%.

JV: When you show a claim to be false, do campaigns / politicians correct themselves or keep on claiming the same thing? Can you give me some example of a claim that keeps being repeated even though it’s been debunked?

Will Moy: The big one is the claim that the UK pays a membership fee of £350 million per week. It’s actually £250 million. You can get a sense of how often this comes up from our twitter feed.

What’s interesting is the claims that used to be made that we don’t hear so much or at all any more. People used to say that 3 million jobs in the UK depend on EU membership. Now they tend to be very careful to say 3 million jobs are linked to exports to the EU, or linked to EU membership, and often clarify that they are not saying ‘depend’. That’s a big change from two years ago around the European Parliamentary elections, are you can see from our past and recent coverage.

JV: In your view, are British citizens informed well enough to make the decision to stay or leave? Is there a lot of misinformation skewing the debate?

Will Moy: There is so much demand for our work from the public and from journalists that it’s clear many people don’t feel they have the information they need. The debate is being skewed by unreliable claims from both sides but it’s been encouraging to see broadcasters standing up to that, and working with us to give people the information they want.


About Johanna Vehkoo

Journo, speaker, fact-checker. Formerly Visiting Scholar at Wilson Center, Washington DC, and Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University. Wrote a book about the future of quality journalism. Founder of award-winning startup Long Play. Blogs in both Finnish and English.
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