Social Media and the Political Process
The Internet has changed not only everyone’s daily life but also the global businesses and politics. The emergence of social networks led to the creation of social networking where anyone can communicate and collaborate. Technology and social networks play a key role in accelerating the political process since they foster political change by linking together the groups of like-minded people and providing coordination capacity traffic in real time. This movement enhanced the development of the processes that would take weeks, months, or years before. Social networks have a number of undeniable advantages, and the ease with which it is always possible to communicate in real time with any person including electorate is one of them. In such a way, policy or state officials are able to be aware of the latest news and people’s reactions to the developments in the world and in the country. The purpose of the paper is to analyze the role of social media in political life of France and compare it with that of the United States. While social media serves to impact the nation’s view of politics in the USA, in France, it is a crucial tool for communication between the officials and authorities but with less impact on political processes.
The Role of Social Media in France
The Internet has already become a political tool all over the world and particularly in France. Nowadays, it is frequently used not only as the information platform but also as a coordinator of various mass activities. With the development of telecommunications, the society now has access to a huge body of information, as well as enjoys the opportunity to express their opinion and undertake collective action. Over the same period, social media has become an integral part of civil society around the world. Social networks are the center of attention and the base for exchange of views and relevant information. Due to such tendencies, the structure of traditional and non-traditional media is rapidly changing, further affecting the audience and the specifics of its distribution.
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New technologies and the changes in political systems alternate the nature of interaction between the media and the states. If in the 1990s it seemed that development was proceeding towards unlimited freedom of receiving information regardless of the existing state borders, the beginning of the 21st century showed that the world is not at all a place, where dissemination of information is free from any restrictions (Shirky, 2011). In fact, the leading countries have managed to adapt to the new technological and political realities as well as to the changes in the media market. Moreover, the use of social media increased the power of officials enabling them to influence the preferences of citizens due to the possibility to research general trends of their “likes”. However, the development of the media markets of individual countries is no longer determined by the countries themselves and their state apparatuses. On the contrary, the evolution of the local systems has become a part of the global media market progress.
Nowadays, there are six main trends that affect the place of social media in politics of France. They include the increase in the level of competition and commercialization of the media market; technical and economic convergence (e.g. traditional and the “new” media); globalization of the media market; explosive growth in the amount of available content; increased opportunities for end-user interactive use of content; and the broadening of the meaning of the “new media.”
Social media in France is gaining popularity in the government and among officials as a way to be closer to the citizens, exchange thoughts, and promote ideas. Social media can make the weak bonds stronger, unite the people of different origin and with various interests, and even organize street protests. France is becoming a multinational country, especially after the influx of refugees. In this context, social networks serve as a tool for uniting people and preventing possible conflicts among nations. Social media leadership is distributed among various actors and not necessarily those in a position of authority. Nowadays, there is no need for a single person to organize and inspire the masses. Social media platforms that belong to the institutions and international organizations provide the information, which is as valuable as the one that appears in the major news discussing the changes in the region and the rest of the world. In this regard, the new information space hierarchy of France is as follows: social networks ? social media (social networks + blogs + content hosting + Wikipedia) ? New Media (online edition + online version and the official sites of traditional media + social media) ? web 2.0 (all sites with the function to comment) (Shirky, 2011).
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Overall, social networks in France are mostly used to improve the quality of life of the citizens and to provide the conditions for business development. Social media assist in functioning of electronic state and increase the effectiveness of public administration. Furthermore, they facilitate the development of the information technology market, thus ensuring the transition to a digital economy. The progress in the sphere of social media allows to overcome the digital divide and create the basic infrastructure of the information society. Besides, it ensures security of the latter, develops digital content, and translates it into electronic form.
The Comparison of the US and France
In order to have a better understanding of how social media affects political process in France, it is necessary to compare it with the similar processes in the US – the country with the largest Internet penetration into various spheres of people’s life and the huge role of social medial in last presidential elections. The two countries share certain similarities, but Europe generally displays some different trends. It is important to note that cultural peculiarities also have impact Social Media and the Political Process in Francethe trust and the use of social media in political context (Nadeau & Barlow, 2003). The role of politics is more prevailing in the US and the elections here take place in each state. Thus, the country is more likely to use social media as a means of mass influence. Frenchmen in turn pay much attention to appearance, and usually, the use of traditional media in order to impress electorate is more successful (Nadeau & Barlow, 2003).
The United States display the high level of penetration of the Internet into various aspects of citizens’ life due to the easy access and the popularity of social networks. The two most widely and actively used social networks are Twitter (visited by 53% of people in the country) and Facebook (42,1% of users) (Zavattaro & Bryer, 2016). More than 80% of Americans have a profile in social media that amounts to over 195 million as of 2016, and this number is constantly increasing. Other popular platforms are YouTube, Reddit, and Pinterest (Zavattaro & Bryer, 2016).
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The US officials started to use social networks in order to share ideas, especially in pre-election period. The old media depend heavily on the income received from advertising, while candidates can use new media during the campaigns, in particular Facebook and Twitter, almost for free. During the US presidential elections in 2008, 14,5 million hours of video material relating to the election race was watched on YouTube (Bennett, 2012). The possibility of placing the video on the basis of this service did not imply large costs, while in case this material was broadcast on television, the estimated cost of the advertising company would be $45 million (Bennett, 2012). Thus, due to the interactive nature and the low cost of new media, candidates in elections can win their voters in a way that was previously unavailable through the old media.
It is quite easy to attract new supporters using the new social media in political campaigns. However, it may be difficult to predict the influence of this tool on electoral behavior. Social media is becoming a coordination tool for political movements around the world, so authoritarian regimes seek to limit the access to them. In response, the US State Department announced that the protection of the “Internet freedom” is one of the priority areas of the country’s policy (van Dijck, 2013). The protection of the right of free usage of the Internet follows the American strategic goal, which is the strengthening of “civil society” around the world (van Dijck, 2013). However, the attempts of the US Department of State to protect the “Internet freedom” by supporting various dissident groups outside the United States aimed at changing the existing regimes are generally not very effective, and in the case of failure, the consequences can be serious (van Dijck, 2013).
For such external forces as the US, it is sometimes difficult to understand the specifics of local political process. External support of peaceful opposition is always accompanied by the risk, and the authorities can perceive the opposition as a force controlled by the elements from abroad. For instance, it is easy to track the number of supporters on Facebook platform: the page of Hillary Clinton had around 3,5 million US supporters, while Trump’s profile had approximately 8 million fans (Naughton, 2016). Considering the supporters from the rest of the world, Trump was still leading. It is evident that he had a much bigger audience in the US than Hillary, which might have helped him to spread his ideas, gain popularity, and win the elections.
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As mentioned above, social media have higher impact on American audience than that of Europe. In the case of France, the country has many Internet users but it is ranked only fourth in terms of the number of people using the Internet in Europe (52.2 million). In the global statistics, France is tenth in same context. Around 88% of French population has access to the Internet, which is lower than in Germany and Iceland (Bevort, 2017). According to the research by Intel, almost 40% of adults in France feel more comfortable communicating via social networks than in person (Zavattaro & Bryer, 2016). Additionally, Frenchmen generally spend 27,7 hours a month online (Zavattaro & Bryer, 2016). Out of that time, 247,4 minutes are devoted to social networks with Facebook being the most popular one (France has the third largest number of Facebook users in the EU) (Zavattaro & Bryer, 2016). The specifics of Europe in general and France in particular is the presence of local social networks, such as SkyRock. Besides, while social media are popular among the citizens and the government, almost none of the French companies use social networks for promotion.
According to Intel (2017), the analysis of the recent presidential elections showed that more than 3,5 million of Frenchmen expressed their support in social media for one of the candidates. Notably, some of the candidates with long and active Facebook usage and the large audience, such as Marine Le Pen, did not get the proportional support in elections. Another candidate, Jean-Luc M?lenchon, managed to increase the audience for 16% in one month but did not succeed in elections either (Interel, 2017). Other candidates, including Macron, Fillon, and Hamon (the smallest audience of all) were not active Facebook users (Interel, 2017). However, they increased their activity on the social media only in the last two weeks before the elections, and during this time, the percentage of their supporters became larger in over 51% (Bevort, 2017; Interel, 2017). More than 1 million of tweets were created and shared every day of the campaign (Daniel, 2017). The winner of the elections, Macron, was not the big supporter of social media and even blamed it for spreading fake news. Therefore, such example shows the difference in the roles of social media in the countries under consideration: unlike the United States, the candidate, who was most supported online, did not win the elections in France.
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It is evident that social media has a potential to change the political life in France. Its increasing popularity is a natural process of digital convergence that provides the ability to tailor information based on the user’s personal preferences (Curien, 2017). Furthermore, the new social media types have relatively more freedom as they are not limited by CSA regulations unlike the traditional ones (Daniel, 2017). Finally, the researches clearly demonstrate that YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are becoming the major informative tools.
Social media are the powerful tools in political processes and are capable of influencing masses due to the easy access, facilitated communication, and the ability to track trends. Social networks enable people of different religions and nationalities to coexist and exchange thoughts. Moreover, anyone can now quickly convey his or her interests to authorities, which is a modern and a long-term political tendency. Social networks are most actively used by the authorities during the preparation for elections. The comparison of the situation in the US and France shows that both countries use social media for political campaigns and integrate social media in electronic governing. However, the businesses are hardly involved in use of social media in France. Moreover, the support on social media does not necessarily correspond with the real support of population. Overall, the process of involving social media in politics is inevitable and is expected to grow in the future.