What is the real value of political weight on Twitter?

During the 2022 presidential election, candidates with a strong Twitter presence ultimately scored below their weight in the social network… This is one of the results of the Linkage platform, which offers innovative analysis of social media.

If the presidential election is often described as a battle, Twitter has been the loudest and most chaotic battleground. However, many questions have arisen about the real importance of the social network, or at least its representativeness. Without bias, research develops tools that allow us to see things more clearly.

So, Pierre Latouche, professor at the University of Paris Cité and member of the Applied Mathematics laboratory in Paris 5 (Map5), expert in artificial intelligence and automatic learning, responds to these questions from a mathematical point of view, especially through statistics. His two main research themes are problems related to high dimensions, i.e. when a mass of data reaches a threshold where the complexity of their processing explodes, and theanalysis of networks, especially social ones. He participated in the development of Linkagea software platform managed by four research entities: the CNRS, Inria and the universities of Paris Cité and Côte dAzure.

Illustration made from Linkfluence data. They were collected from more than 50,000 Twitter accounts that mentioned a presidential candidate between March 3 and March 21, 2022, meaning about 11.6 million messages.

We started from the observation that people mainly share text in social networks, explained Pierre Latouche. There are tools to analyze texts, and others to explore networks, but nothing unites these two aspects at the same time. Linkage is a big step forward. It is actually one of the very first software specifically dedicated to analyzing the connections and circulation of texts in social networks. »

The linkage is built around probabilistic and graphical models, and relies on the so-called variational approximation and mean field method. The linkage has been notably deployed for the study of the 2022 presidential electionin cooperation with the newspaper The world who drew several articles two of them made headlines. The idea came from Joe Biden’s campaign team’s approach to the 2020 US presidential election, explained Pierre Latouche. Instead of trying to force itself on Donald Trump’s supporters, who are overrepresented on Twitter, the Democratic headquarters decided not to respond to them and only mention its own achievements and the positive elements of Joe Biden’s campaign. Since it has borne fruit since he won the election, we want to know, along with journalists from worldwhat is the real political weight of Twitter in France. »

Every word of every tweet is scrutinized

To achieve this, Linkage received help from the company Linkfluence. It absorbed all the tweets that named at least one of the official presidential candidates between March 3 and March 21, 2022. So the company accumulated almost 12 million public messages that it gave without Linkage fees to feed its models and build an attractive network. Internally, each node represents a Twitter account, linked to any other nodes it mentions or retweets. Historically, for fifteen years we have had powerful computer tools capable of creating groups by analyzing the connections of a network, ahead of Pierre Latouche. Now, with Linkage, we can also analyze the content of exchanges. Every word of every tweet is thus scrutinized and related to the whole. »

This work shed light on twenty groups, also called clusters, which the researchers were able to associate, for the most part, with the political parties involved in the presidential election. Mathieu Jacomy, a researcher at Tant Lab in Copenhagen, made this data readable by design a large map of French political Twitter.

Big gap between twittosphere and reality in 2022…

The four central candidates are clearly Éric Zemmour, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Valérie Pécresse. However, in the polls, Éric Zemmour and Valérie Pécresse scored below their weight on Twitter. The left is essentially linked to insubordinate France, while the Socialist Party and EELV are basically absent. On the right, cis the Reconquête party that mainly leads, including the one above the National Rally, which represents 20% of all accounts.

Example mapping created by Linkage. The colors of the nodes reflect the groups found and the colors of the edges of the automatically estimated discussion topics.

That’s an absolutely huge number.blow to Pierre Latouche. Eric Zemmour’s supporters are organized into a very effective system, perhapsastroturfing, inspired by Donald Trump. It was about creating an activity where each message was retweeted by Éric Zemmour’s lieutenants who also systematically retweeted each other, before a second circle of supporters retweeted heavily. The effect of training then constitutes a very important activity. To a lesser extent, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s entourage used a similar technique. »

…but in 2017 it was the opposite

Another lesson of Linkage, the political dynamics on Tweeter gradually moved away from society. Probably because of these types of tactics. ” In 2017, visibility on Twitter and election results were strongly aligned, said Pierre Latouche. A candidate’s share of supporter activity deviates by only 0.1% from the score he or she ultimately achieved in the first round. This year, that clearly hasn’t happened, the gap is significant between the weight of politics on Twitter and the real world. »

Thus, Linkage proved its interest in the study of social networks. Today, approximately 1,400 users are registered on the platform, which at the moment functions as a research software. ” The linkage is a living research project, concludes Pierre Latouche. We have moved into a real phase of expansion, with recruitment both for basic research and for software development engineers. In particular, we are working on visualization, so that buttons and options make it easier to use Linkage, and we will continue to add functionalities to it.»

Also read on our website:
Internet, the disinformation highway?
Social networks: the cogs of opinion manipulation

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