“‘What is the EU?’: Hours after voting for Brexit, the British are frantically Googling the European Union”

This hilarious headline has been all over the news since the Brexit vote and will no doubt get pulled out at every dinner party conversation about Britain or Europe from now until the end of time. About 4 people have shown it to me now, each of them shaking their heads and saying “lol look how dumb they are“, or something like that.

Please don’t be one of the people who repeats it, because it is a bullshit story based on nothing.

The story came from Google Trends. You can play with it here if you want. https://www.google.ca/trends/. If you have taken even one semester of statistics you should be aware of how easy it is to use simple graphs like these to spin any story you want, by carefully revealing some numbers and concealing others. The charts are updated in real time; if you look at it right now, you’ll see a much bigger spike than the one that was originally reported, caused by all the people who read the article.

Some other possible reasons for the spike:

  • Kids (too young to vote) asking their teachers about it, to which the logical response is “let’s look it up.”
  • The peak of that trend was actually the day before the vote; ie, people getting informed about it before making a choice. It’s super easy to distort that fact by changing the search filter. Searches the following day were still triple the normal numbers, but lower than the day before, and “triple the normal numbers” means something like 1000 people. To me that’s a non-story. 1000 people in a nation of 64 million may be a spike on a graph, but only if the chart had pretty low numbers in the first place.
  • All it means is someone decided to Google “what is the eu” – it does NOT mean that the searcher didn’t know what the EU was in the first place. To Google the two letters “eu” on their own is nonsensical. It’s a common word in French that has nothing to do with European Unions. It’s a misspelling of “et”, the blockbuster film about a lost alien. It’s a misspelling of “ei”, or emplyment insurance, which you get when you’re out of a job. If I wanted more information about the EU I would also google “what is the eu” and not “eu”. I would do so around the time of a major referendum about it. It’s normal behaviour. It doesn’t mean that you don’t know what the EU is – it means you’re intelligent enough to realize you probably need to know more.

All this doesn’t really fit into the narrative of a horde of thoughtless sheep voting for “leave” because ignorance made them think all Britain’s problems came from an amorphous overseas blob called the “EU”. I’ve heard a lot about anti-intellectualism – the complaint that normals and muggles think they don’t need no experts or college learnin’ to know what’s best for them.

I’m starting to sympathize with the normals and muggles though, because the so-called intellectuals have a habit of acting like condescending jackasses. Please don’t be one of them; when you do that, you are making the world worse by increasing the divide between “us” and “them” and that’s how we got into this fix in the first place.

I’m saying “we” and including myself in the group that is affected by Brexit. “us” and “them”, “Canadian” or “British” or “European”, “remain” or “leave”, “conservative” or “liberal”, all these words are tools that are used to distract us into fighting amongst ourselves while we’re being robbed.

Stop condescending. Stop patronizing. Stop it.