Data reveals big picture of the French 2017 presidential election: Social media, fake news, and political communities

September 20, 2018, CNRS
Politoscope display showing Twitter accounts that commented on the Penelopegate scandal. The redder an account, the more tweets it posted on this topic. Credit: CNRS / ISC-PIF--Chavalarias D, Gaumont N, Panahi M. 2018.

CNRS and EHESS researchers analyzed nearly 60 million political tweets posted during the 2017 presidential election in France. They noted that fake news flagged by the Le Monde Decodex fact-checking website accounted for only 0.1 percent of all Twitter content, and that 73 percent of the bogus information was spread by two political communities. Their findings are published in PLOS ONE (September 19, 2018).

Social media has become a major communication tool for political parties during election campaigns. For the 2017 French , a team of researchers from the Institut des Systèmes Complexes (CNRS) and the Centre for Social Analysis and Mathematics (CNRS / EHESS) led by David Chavalarias developed the Politoscope, a tool permitting real-time analysis of the activity of political communities and circulation of information within the Twitter network.

The team used the Politoscope to track interactions between 2.4 million Twitter accounts during the campaign period (June 2016-May 2017). These accounts generated 60 million politically themed Tweets. The researchers first demonstrated that it was possible to identify the political communities with extreme precision and study their development in real time. For example, they monitored the distance taken by a part of the pro-Sarkozy camp with respect to the Fillon community a few days before the Penelopegate scandal.

The team collected barely 5,000 tweets (i.e., 0.081 percent of all those considered) linking to content identified as fake by Le Monde Décodeur fact checkers. Hence, the researchers did not detect a Twitter fake news "tsunami," though they do believe these figures are underestimates.

Politoscope display showing political landscape three months before first voting round of presidential election (top) and throughout 2017 (bottom). Political communities are distinguished by color. The nodes of Twitter accounts associated with the main presidential candidates have been labeled. Using the map of political affiliations as a base layer, accounts that spread fake news are highlighted in yellow, while those debunking such false information are colored green. Credit: CNRS / ISC-PIF--Chavalarias D, Gaumont N, Panahi M. 2018.

Basing its investigation on the Le Monde fake news list and observations of the 200,000 Twitter accounts affiliated with political communities, Chavalarias's team studied the role of these communities in the spread of false information and the extent to which such bogus news gained ground among the 2 million accounts—referred to collectively as the "sea"—that were not linked to a political community, but which posted political tweets with varying frequency.

According to the researchers' analyses, 50.75 percent of the fake news was tweeted by the Fillon community; and 22.21 percent, by the Le Pen community. These two groups thus accounted for the vast majority of fake news stories circulating within the Twitter network. It should also be noted that only 18.9 percent of the fake news was spread by Twitter users in the "sea," although these same users produced 43 percent of the 60 million Tweets collected.

This study made no distinction between accounts officially affiliated with a community and those of militants or "trolls" potentially seeking to influence a target community through their interactions with it. But in analyzing the phenomenon, it offers a better understanding of the mechanisms and stakes at hand.

Explore further: Twitter to add special labels to political candidates in US

More information: Noé Gaumont et al, Reconstruction of the socio-semantic dynamics of political activist Twitter networks—Method and application to the 2017 French presidential election, PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0201879

Related Stories

Study suggests Facebook's war on fake news is gaining ground

September 18, 2018

In the two years since fake news on the Internet became a full-blown crisis, Facebook has taken numerous steps to curb the flow of misinformation on its site. Under intense political pressure, it's had to put up a fight: ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.