How did the French called to go to the polls get information on April 24, 2022 to elect Emmanuel Macron (LREM) or Marine Le Pen (RN) to the highest office? According to the latest Kantar/One point media trust barometer for The crosshalf of citizens (48%) access the news first by television (including 18% via non-stop news channels), then by Internet (32%), radio (13%) and clipboard (6%).
→ EXPLANATION. Media barometer 2022: French confidence at an all-time low
On the Internet, four in ten (38%) prefer media sites and a quarter (26%) social networks. 28% declare themselves to be “don’t know” when asked about their digital sources, with strong generational gaps (up to 65% of those over 65 compared to 3% of those under 35) and educational (77% of those who don’t -graduates, versus 12% of Bac +).
France is also characterized by a lower willingness to pay for online information. Even if press sites have garnered subscription records since the health crisis, only 11% of French people declared having paid for a news site in 2020, while this was the case for 45% of Norwegians, 30% of Swedes or 21% of Americans, according to the latest report from the Reuters Institute.
Information under influence
In this context, reading the works of David Chavalarias and Antoine Bayet is enlightening and alarming. Director of research at the CNRS and at the Center for Social Analysis and Mathematics of the EHESS, the first effectively deciphers the way in which social network algorithms manipulate our opinions and tighten our access to information.
The second, editorial director of the National Audiovisual Institute (Ina), went to meet “news dropouts”, who have cut themselves off from so-called “mainstream” media and thrive by producing and circulating on YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, and more and more on the “underground” Odysee.com or Telegram, committed content of sometimes dubious veracity in which they firmly believe.
Circuits and tools of misinformation
These two books, which are part of a didactic and constructive approach (by outlining “antidotes” and “recommendations”), respond to each other in their desire to explain by what mechanisms and through what actors disinformation is spread, with more in addition to concrete effects, whether through sudden rallies or the manipulation of opinions before a major election.
In his “Journey to the land of dark information”, Antoine Bayet probes “this parallel and underground world where licensed counterfeiters, master manipulators and sincere dropouts rub shoulders, tired of the codes of traditional information”. We meet the former soldier Serge Petitdemange who wanted to go and arrest Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée, the “compulsive activist” Khadra with more than 160,000 Facebook subscribers, the deputy and anti-vaccine psychiatrist Martine Wonner, or even the owner of francesoir Xavier Azalbert and the young Erik Tegnér who co-founded the identity media “Black Book”.
A “parallel and underground world”
Unknown to the general public, these “stars” of the Net or darkNet, with more or less political and lucrative motivations, garner phenomenal audiences and make up this “grey area of information”. Their content can then be remunerated by “programmatic advertising” (which automatically places ads on popular sites) and are “boosted” by recommendation algorithms that filter the content of “friends” according to their similarities.
David Chavalarias, who launched Politoscope in 2016 to map online political debate by studying the interference between spheres of influence and political accounts on Twitter, multiplies the examples, in the United States or in France, of attempts to instrumentalize the opinion led by the American ultra-right, very active on social networks, or the Internet research agency (IRA), a vast Russian “troll farm” specializing in this type of campaign.
Their content seeks to form media echo chambers to confine Internet users to their opinions and increase polarization. The mathematician observes that these influence campaigns aim to demonize a candidate before an election, through diverted or animated images, to promote abstention and thus give their favorite a chance of victory.
Worried about the future, Davis Chavalarias offers 18 individual and collective tracks to “save our democracy from the digital overdose”without which, according to him, history could retain “that democracy has died out while we are busy on social networks relaying everything that happens and launching witticisms with hashtags, emojis, and photos of pretty little cats”…