“Internet, winner of the French presidential election?”

20070521_French_electionBefore putting anything else up, I feel compelled to add a few words further to the 2007 French presidential election I talked about in the previous post. “So what?” kind of epilogue. As we all know, Monsieur Sarkozy is the next president as predicted. I am neither surprised nor affected. In their words, “Ça m’est égal”. 🙂

Just after the election, an email arrived from the World eDemocracy Forum, France. It was titled “Internet, winner of the French presidential election?“. Is it just I who have a feeling that the title would have been the same even if Royal had won? Well, if the size of the expenditure on e-campaigning indicates how devoted a candidate is to it, Royal was apparently twice more so (according to the linked article above). A fundamental difference was, however, observed in the candidates’ approaches to online mobilisation. At a forum “Soapboxes in cyberspace: how can the media facilitate debate online?“, Olivier Creiche from Six Apart pointed out that while Royal’s online mobilisation was very centralised, Sarkozy’s strategy was more about giving away weapons [blogs] to individual users and let them fight for the territory. (The discussion at the forum is well captured here.) Perhaps from this we could find an answer to the question what made a difference.

So, an age-old question keeps coming back to me: is there such a thing as an ‘Internet effect’? As Nick rightly questioned during his presentation at a departmental seminar, and I had long been wondering myself, how do we define (and even measure!) a success of online campaigning – or any sorts of election campaigning for that matter? Winning a term in office? Many authors including Brian McNair (2007) point out that it will never be straightforward to trace the cause and effect relationship between a piece of political communication and the behaviour of its audience. To paraphrase Baudrillard (Selective Writings, 1998: 213), we will never know for sure what would have happened if there had been no Internet. We can only try – through means like surveys, interviews and experiments.

Oh, one more thing. (How Columbo!) Sarkozy’s vision of a “France at the digital age” is found here (in French) and here (in English).

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