Over the period of analysis from December 15th, 2018 to January 20th, 2019, Alto’s data science team analyzed the political and social debate in France. Public data analyzed includes 8,929,582 total results from 746,169 unique authors, 408,921 conversations, and 458,250 unique pieces of content shared across multiple digital sources such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, blogs, forums, and other digital communities. Results in the French language and results geolocated in France were collected. Alto’s analysis focuses on understanding the role and digital influence of politicians, civil society, and social and digital media platforms in shaping the online public debate in specific communities.

Alto’s data analysts conducted a primary analysis of explicit mentions on all of the indexed sources previously described. In this analysis, we measured explicit mentions of political parties and politicians, finding that 46.0% of mentions refer to the La République en Marche! or associated politicians, 20.8% to Rassemblement National or associated politicians, 13.5% to La France insoumise or associated politicians, 8.6% to Les Républicains or associated politicians, 4.5% to Debout la France or associated politicians, 2.7% to the Génération.s or associated politicians, 2.3% to Parti Socialiste or associated politicians, and 0.8% to both EELV (Europe Ecology or the Greens) and Union des démocrates et indépendants or associated politicians, respectively.

Narratives Analysis

In an analysis of the top 300 highest frequency terms which represent 98.3% of the results analyzed, Alto’s analysts observed three dominant narratives: The Great National Debate, the Yellow Vests crisis, and the Marrakech Migration Pact.

  1. Great National Debate (43.7%): Focuses on the Great National Debate spurred by the Yellow Vests movement as well as Macron’s performance and handling of the crisis.
  2. The Yellow Vests crisis (24.0%): Includes coverage by major national and international media on the Yellow Vests crisis and Macron’s policies.
  3. The Marrakech Pact (17.6%): Mentions the Great National Debate and Marrakech Pact conference on the regulation of immigration.
  4. Resignation of President Macron (7.5%): Focuses on the request for resignation or dismissal of President Emmanuel Macron for his decisions amid the Yellow Vests crisis in addition to the actions of the police forces over the course of the protests.
  5. Support of Yellow Vests (7.2%): Conversations offering support for the acts and initiatives of the members of the Yellow Vests movement, as well as for ex-boxer, Christophe Dittinger, who was detained after striking riot police during the protests.

Communities Analysis

Alto data scientists used Alto Analyzer, Alto’s proprietary cloud-based analytics platform, to build and identify the largest communities of users interacting in connection with the French public debate. This community was identified in Twitter, and their interactions were filtered for retweets only, in order to perform a topological analysis of the propagation of messages. This resulted in a unimodal network of authors (giant component, edges being re-tweets). To determine the different communities and visually represent the resulting network, Alto’s data scientists applied clustering algorithms, like the Louvain Method for community detection, for example. The graph is visualized as shown below with a total of 219,639 users and 7,416,261 retweets.

Network topology is characterized by network structures with nodes (profiles) and edges (lines) which connect them. Alto’s algorithm clusters nodes and edges in order to calculate proximities and communities of users.

The following five key communities emerged from the community detection analysis:

  1. Satirical and humorous media and citizens (37.2%): Sharing of news about the Yellow Vests and the political decisions made by President Emmanuel Macron.
  2. Emmanuel Macron and national/international news media (25.6%): This community consists of the condemnation of various acts of violence during the Yellow Vests protests, which also serves as one of two core themes, the second being the Great National Debate,
  3. La France Insoumise, news media, and citizens (21.7%): Criticisms of police violence against the Yellow Vests demonstrators. The president of La France Insoumise, Jean Luc-Mélenchon, also spoke about this issue and supported the Movement.
  4. Rassemblement National (11.6%): These conversations bear xenophobic discourse, with mentions of other issues that are happening at a political level in France and are led by political leaders such as Marine Le Pen.
  5. Parti Socialiste and Génération.s (3.9%): Led by the presidents of the respective political parties, Olivier Faure and Benoît Hamon. Both parties on the Left criticize the attitude of President Macron after the Great National Debate, including the lack of political measures for social justice and the Yellow Vests movement.

Politicians Among the Top Communities

In an analysis of influential nodes in the communities mapped, Alto measured influence mathematically based on the structural connections of the authors in the digital debate and their ability to propagate messages to larger audiences in the network (centrality measurement), showing that out of 232 politicians in the top communities, 56 were classified in the Rassemblement National community (24.1%), 50 were classified in the Parti Socialiste and Génération.s community (21.5%), and 21 were from the Emmanuel Macron and National/International News Media community (9.05%). This indicates a relative lack of presence of politicians diffusing messages in the Emmanuel Macron and National/International News Media community when compared with activity and distribution of political figures diffusing messages in both the Rassemblement National and the Parti Socialiste and Génération.s communities.

Abnormality Detection – Most Active Users

To determine if users with abnormal levels of activity were present in the debate, Alto’s team focused on an analysis of outliers and their frequency of posting. The results indicated that the 2,699 most active users had an average of 1,107 comments. Applying a standard deviation of 806 means that users with more than 1,913 comments can be considered outliers. Following this, we can identify 280 users with abnormal activity (0.13% of all users). These most active users produced at least 81 posts per day, amounting to 824,530 total posts.

Over half (52.17%) of the 280 users identified as demonstrating abnormal activity are concentrated within the Rassemblement National community, and these users produced 57% of comments analyzed. 31.34% of abnormal identities producing 31% of comments were classified in the La France Insoumise community, while 15.64% of users producing 11.7% of comments were identified in the La République en Marche and International News Media community.

Negligible Influence of Users Posting from Outside of France

44.46% of users are geolocated in France and 51.71% of users do not publicly express their geolocation. Users taking part in the French socio-political debate online from other locations demonstrated marginal activity relative to the overall debate.

Role of Traditional, Emerging, and Foreign Media in the Debate

To determine which media sites are most influential, Alto’s algorithms take into account the number of users and the volume and frequency of links from media sites being shared across social media sources to calculate how influential the site is within the context of the analysis. Alto’s software ranks content influence similar to Google’s algorithms for web page ranking – the content from more relevant sites are likely to receive greater attention from more users over a sustained period of time.

Alto’s analysis found that traditional French media and social media platforms ranked high in influence, as did a growing network of emerging digital media with highly specific editorial positions. Please see the table below for the top 150 most influential domains and the contribution of each community to the propagation of each domain’s content within the network.

Some of the key findings are:

– The most relevant domains of national news media include francetvinfo.fr, lemonde.fr, and lefigaro.fr.

– The Parti Socialiste, Génération-s community was found to have shared traditional, mainstream French media such as Francetvinfo.fr, Lemonde.fr, Bfmtv.com, and Lefigaro.fr.

– Sites such as Fdesouche.com, Lefigaro.fr, Valeursactuelles.com,t Adoxa.info, Caseur.fr, and others that can be identified in the domains analysis, were shared over 85% of the time by the Rassemblement National community as compared to other communities.

– Foreign media sites, such as Russia Today and Sputnik, made strong appearances among the most shared domains in the debate as well. RT and Sputnik achieved significant rates of penetration in the Rassemblement National community, with at least one of these domains being shared by 30.64% of users in this community. The appearance of two foreign media, RT and Sputnik (the 6th and the 24th most relevant among the top 150) signals the presence of Russian media among the top 25 mainstream French and International Media in the digital conversation. The high affinity of one community towards these domains is demonstrated through our Media Analysis which indicates that 71% of all RT content shared was propagated by authors identified within the Rassemblement National community. Moreover, in an analysis of media shared by users identified as abnormal activity users, RT and Sputnik increase in their ranking of top media shared to 4th and 23rd positions, respectively, indicating an increased affinity to these domains on the part of high activity users in the debate.

Top 150 Domains – Percentage of Times Each Domain Is Shared per Community

“French Generals Accuse Macron of Treason” – Content Propagation Analysis

On Thursday, December 13th, 2018, infowars.com, an American conspiracy theory website associated with the “alt-right” and “far-right” published an article titled French Generals Accuse Macron of “Treason” Over UN Migration Pact – Open letter says French citizens have another reason to “revolt”.

Alto’s team of data scientists conducted a digital impact analysis on Infowars’s content and the cascade of subsequent publications based on the original article. The Infowars publication was promptly followed by French media sources leparisien.fr, fdesouche.com and others in publishing their own articles proclaiming the same. Using the previously described Communities Analysis on the French socio-political debate as a framework of reference, Alto’s data scientists are not only able to map the penetration of the different publications in the conversation, but also to which point each of the different communities are impacted by those publications (all of the following figures related to authors sharing the content are based on this core network of users).

A total of 249 users share the article published by fdesouche.com, and 91.16% of these users belong to the Rassemblement National community. When extending the analysis, we observe that 1,032 users share the leparisien.fr content, 83.72% of them belong to the Rassemblement National community. On December 15th, two days after the birth of the story, the greatest diffusion in the core network is achieved following a publication by Russia Today (RT). 1,828 users from the network share the rt.com article, 85.45% of them belong to the Rassemblement National community. On December 18th, Alto’s data scientists observe a dissipation and passing of the peak diffusion of the article which began five days prior on infowars.com with only 15 users sharing the article published on the topic by egaliteetreconciliation.fr – 53.33% of them belong to the Rassemblement National community.

We observe an evolution in the number of users who share the story, as well as in the penetration in the different identified communities. By far, the highest concentration of users propagating this story is located in the Rassemblement National community – 85% of the total. The bulk of the sharing of the story occurs between the 13th and 17th of December. Sites like revolutionjaune.org, anguillesousroche.com, exportail.com, europe-israel.org, nouvelobs.com, also published articles on the same subject matter, although their content was propagated to a lesser degree than the highlighted examples.

Interested in our work? Please contact us at info@alto-analytics.com. To learn more about Alto Data Analytics, subscribe to our newsletter below.