77,000 fake signatures removed from Brexit referendum petition

27 Jun 2016

With the UK in political turmoil following the Brexit vote to leave the EU, parliamentary authorities have acted to remove 77,000 signatures from an online petition demanding a second referendum after the signatures were found to be counterfeit.

Given the extremely narrow margin between the Leave and Remain camps of the Brexit vote, those on the losing side of this referendum are currently living in what could be considered the first stage of grief – denial – with an online petition demanding a second referendum quickly gathering steam.

In the space of the day following the result, the petition drew attention for the fact it had achieved 3 million signatories. Yet all is not what it seems when it comes to this seemingly-clear demand from a sizeable portion of the population.

Future Human

According to current rules, if an online petition receives 10,000 signatures, the government has to issue a response, with more than 100,000 signatures requiring a debate within parliament.

However, The Telegraph reports that, of the 3m signatures, 77,000 have now been removed due to the discovery that they have been added ‘fraudulently’, with blame being placed squarely on the infamous 4chan message board where users appear to be celebrating the prank.

No evidence of security breach

The Petitions committee has issued a statement on the incident. Despite being referred to as suspicious activity, the incident is not being claimed as evidence of a security breach.

However, the committee admits that the website has been put under considerable strain since the petition went live.

“The petition’s website has not been hacked, and there has been no manipulation of data behind the scenes,” a spokesperson said. “Fraudulent signatures have been and will continue to be removed, to ensure the site’s integrity”.

A ‘global’ petition

Not only that, but thousands of signatures appear to originate from other countries, including over 39,000 from Vatican City and nearly 24,000 from the isolationist state of North Korea.

The likelihood in these cases is that users simply masked their IP addresses using virtual private networks (VPNs), or perhaps that those with coding skills were able to create bots to petition en masse for them.

All of this outcome is likely to have surprised its instigator, Leave campaigner William Oliver Healey, who started the petition one month ago at a time when it was looking like Remain would win the vote.

Brexit image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic