Last updated on 28th July 2019
In a survey published on April 10th, the “Mediapart” website reveals how the LREM (“La République en marche“) community operates to exploit social networks – actions in total contradiction with the official doctrine of the presidential party.
“To all #MacronistesAnonymes … really, THANK YOU !!!” – this message, posted on Twitter in February 2019, is the work of Benjamin Griveaux, the former spokesman of the government and now candidate for the Mayor of Paris. Two years earlier, this same Benjamin Griveaux said, always on the social network: “When we have a little courage, we do not tweet anonymously. Democracy lives in the open”. So what happened between these two statements?
In a survey published on April 10th, Mediapart, in association with independent researcher Baptiste Robert, a famous French hacker also known under the pseudonym Elliott Alderson, reveals how the LREM community attempted to “manipulate Twitter traffic at the first meeting of Nathalie Loiseau“. From the 29th of March to the 1st of April, a weekend that saw Act 20 of the Yellow Vests and the launching of the LREM campaign for the European elections with a mini-reshuffle, the investigation team recorded all messages containing 21 hashtags related to the elections and the presidential party (#LREM, #EnMarche, #JeVotele26Mai…).
After compiling this data, the researcher calculated a “traffic manipulation coefficient” using a tool developed at the Oxford Internet Institute (Oxford University). The result: the figure for the LREM community is 16, which is “above the observed average”. For comparison, ordinary keywords are associated with a coefficient between 8 and 10. “We can therefore deduce an attempt to manipulate traffic from this community,” said Baptiste Robert to Mediapart. An assertion that may seem strange when one remembers the speech of Emmanuel Macron about the Internet last November, pleading for an end to “an anonymity that has become problematic”.
Since the presidential election, there has been no lack of examples in “macronie” [A french word that simply means anything related to Macron – ed]. The Secretary of State of Equality Between Women and Men Marlène Schiappa refused to reveal the owner of the support account @Avec_Marlène, or the embarrassment of the former Special Adviser to the President Ismael Emelien, unable to justify herself to Patrick Cohen on “France 5” about the anonymous broadcast of video surveillance images of the prefecture or the gross montage that was made to exculpate Alexandre Benalla.
“A demonstration of force”
Mediapart reveals a set of accounts structured around @EnsembleEMacron, described as “one of the most active accounts of the macronist sphere” that is “probably be held by several people”, according to the connection data collected. The study shows how 14 of the 20 most active accounts over the weekend of March 29th belong to the LREM community, which has 4,626 accounts in total. On Saturday, March 30th, at the end of the afternoon, at Nathalie Loiseau’s meeting, these 4,626 accounts produced 68% of the retweets while they represent only 10% of accounts listed through hashtags. “A demonstration of force”, in the opinion of the researcher, with the desire to create a mass effect. It is nevertheless very difficult to identify the people hiding behind these accounts.
Bonjour, je m’appelle Mireille et le #26Mai je vote pour la liste #RenaissanceEuropeenne parce que je crois en l’Europe proposée par @NathalieLoiseau et toute son équipe. Tous les #MacronistesAnonymes n’oubliez pas tous aux urnes 🇫🇷🇪🇺 https://t.co/QuRujEuyBX— MamaMimi (@MamaMimi161820) March 28, 2019
The investigation site continues its analysis: “This use of social networks can be likened to an astroturfing campaign, described as ‘the artificial simulation of an online opinion movement'”. Romain Badouard, a teacher-researcher in Paris II, entrusts to Mediapart: “Historically, the interest of social networks is to allow the movement of spontaneous opinion. To try to reproduce, to simulate this spontaneity is astroturfing”. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to confuse these real but false accounts. “Today, there are both fake accounts administered by real people and real accounts powered by robots, making their detection almost impossible,” said the academic.