Brexit: Britons turn to memes to express their feelings towards Brexit vote


There’s global interest in understanding how this historic vote will impact economies around the world. The first step to understanding is discovering how the Brits themselves are feeling.

“With emotions high and voters struggling with feelings about Britain’s vote to leave the EU, many opted to express their feelings by sharing an image rather than words,” said John Fetto, senior analyst Hitwise, a division of Connexity (pictured left). “In fact, Hitwise data show that online searches for ‘gif’, ‘image’ or ‘meme’ were up a relative 19% on Friday the 24th, the day the Referendum vote results were announced, compared to the Friday prior and more than half of the top searches were focused on the referendum.”

The most common referendum-related search in this category on Friday, June 24 was ‘Boris Johnson meme’ followed by ‘Nigel Farage meme’. In fact, ‘Farage’ and ‘Boris’ were each the subject of roughly one in every 85 image-related searches on Friday. David Cameron, meanwhile, was the subject of just one in every 145 image searches.

The specific image searches that were trending on Friday provide insight into just how this audience felt about the Referendum results. For instance, searched for ‘grumpy cat meme’ were up +51% week-on-week and ‘why meme’ searches were up 27%.

Britons were also getting creative making their own images in the wake of the vote with searches for ‘meme generator’ more than triple what we observed the week prior and ‘meme maker’ more than double.

Communication of this sort via image is most common among young Brits with more than half (55%) of those searching for ‘image’, ‘meme’ or ‘gif’ online in the aftermath of the vote being ages 18 to 34. Since those in this age group accounting for just a third of the online population, it means they are 1.7 times more likely than average to conduct such searches. Brands seeking to connect with this group of Digital Natives should be considering memes and gifs as a communication channel. Doing so may provide those brands with increased engagement and relevance among this generation who came of age with the internet.

With media outlets calling the results of the EU referendum in the wee hours of the morning, Britons turned to the Internet for news and information. According to Hitwise, a division of Connexity, visits to online News and Media sites in the UK increased 50% on Friday 24 June, 2016 compared with the previous Friday. But besides news sites, Brits—many surprised by the vote results, turned to search engines to get answers to Brexit-related topics.

In fact, Hitwise found that all of the top online searches in the UK on the day the voting results were known focused directly on the referendum vote with the top question Britons were searching for being: ‘What will happen to EU citizens in the UK?’ In fact, this search accounted for 1 in every 300 question searches conduced in the United Kingdom on Friday.

Many at home (and abroad) were concerned and even shocked at the apparent lack of an informed electorate in the wake of a Google report issued Friday which showed that ‘What is the EU?’ was one of the top referendum-related Google searches in the hours immediately after the results were announced. While unsettling, Hitwise data found that when looking at searches across all search engines during the entire day on Friday, ‘What is the EU?’ ranked only 24th among online question searches overall accounting for just 1 in every 1,900 question searches that day. At the same time, the fact that ‘What is Brexit?’, which accounted for 1 in every 500 question searches Friday, ranked as the number three question search overall is unlikely to reassure many in the Remain camp.

What are Britons’ top concerns?

Uncertainty was the most common theme represented in online searches on Friday. Searches including ‘happen(s)’, as in ‘What happens if we leave the EU?’, or ‘mean(s)’, as in ‘What does leaving the EU mean?’ were the most commonly repeated keywords in question searches related to the referendum. Given the shocking outcome, though, it’s no wonder Britons are seeking answers on what comes next.

Other common specific themes of interest on Friday included the value of the pound. In fact, one in every 75 question searches included the word ‘pound’ that day. Britons, like most of the world, also commonly wanted to know how long it will take for the UK to officially leave the European Union.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Hitwise reported that concerns over immigrants and expats were the most common among those searching around the referendum and also specifically related to ‘leave’ searches. Now that the UK has officially voted to leave, these search topics will be of even greater interest. In fact, on that note, Britons as well as non-Brits residing in the UK scrambled to find out how to get a passport to either another EU country or the UK in first few hours after the vote was announced.

On Friday, Ireland was the top country for which British residents were seeking passport information followed closely by searches for how to obtain a British or UK passport. Many instances of searches for British passports were seeking passports for children who may have never been issued one. Other countries mentioned in passport-related searches on Friday include, (in descending order): ‘Polish’, ‘German’, ‘Portuguese’, ‘Cypriot’ and ‘Spanish’.

On a related topic, ‘move’ searches were up 34% on the day the election results were announced compared to the previous Friday. Canada ranked high atop the list of countries to which Britons were seeking to move with one in every 16 ‘move’ searches mentioning ‘Canada’. Australia came in a distant second mentioned in only one in every 37 move searches. France, Ireland and America rounded out the top five.

Who’s moving to Canada?

Using its AudienceView platform, Hitwise was able to learn more about the population exploring a move to Canada in the aftermath of the vote. Specifically, it found that Britons ages 18 to 24 were more than two times more likely than average to have researched a move to Canada. In fact, 60% of those looking to move to the Great White North are under the age of 35. Canada should be pleased to learn, too, that those researching a move have deep pockets. More specifically, those residing in households with annual incomes in excess of £55,000 were 1.6 times more likely to have looked into moving to Canada.

A second referendum?

Distraught Remain voters quickly began pushing for a second referendum and on Friday one in every 34 online searches for ‘referendum’ included the word ‘second’ or ‘2nd’. At the time of this post, a petition to the UK government calling for such a second referendum had received 3.8 million signatures.

Using AudienceView, Hitwise was also able to learn more about those behind the push for a second referendum. Like those seeking to move to Canada, those seeking a second referendum are young with 47% being under the age of 35. They’re also wealthier with those earning over £55,000 being 1.6 times more likely than average to have searched for information on a second referendum.

Based on their other online searches, Hitwise also learned that this audience is disproportionately more interested than average in getting a passport, in the NHS (specifically as it related to Nigel Farage’s comments) as well as US Presidential candidate Donald Trump.


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