The Social Media Analysis of French Presidential Elections: Telescope or Microscope?

The results of the French elections are in and the two front runners in the polls did indeed come up as predicted by traditional methods. Marine Le Pen and Emanuelle Macron will be the two contenders of the second round of elections.

In a previous post I asked if it might not be Le Pen and Mélenchon that might end up contesting the second tour of the presidential elections in France, in May 2017. The question, which was a mere hypothesis, hedged as it should be by the observation that social media might not be as central in France as in other Western nations, relied on this chart, which showed that Mélenchon had the highest number of retweets per tweet during the last period of the campaign.

But this view of the campaign was that captured by a telescope. Data was aggregated over longer periods of time. Yet, in the same analysis, I also pointed to this chart, which focused on the last three weeks of the campaign. The chart, offering the microscopic view, suggested something interesting.

Macron’s, Fillon’s, and even Hamon’s social media engagement (average reteweets per candidate tweet) exploded during the last two weeks of the French presidential elections. These candidates caught up with the social media leaders, Le Pen and Mélenchon. More important, Mélenchon was the only candidate whose engagement rate declined in this period of active engagement. Although not a dramatic decline, the trend was in stark contrast to everyone else’s.

In brief, when looked at with a microscope, the story was different from the one seen through the telescope.

This, as well as the fact that in the polls Macron was inching up against Le Pen during the same last few weeks, showed that during hotly disputed campaigns the choice of the instrument makes a big difference in understanding processes via social media. In this case, the microscope was more useful than the telescope.

Using social media to understand major events, in which a variety of individuals are caught up, not all of whom use social media, is still at the art stage. It also looks like you can decide only in retrospect what the better choice of instrument would’ve been. In other words, you learn a new thing every day.


Microscope vs. telescope
Microscope vs. telescope


Let us keep an eye on what will happen next, namely round two of the elections, between the young and untested Macron and the died in the nationalist wool Le Pen.

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

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