Internet and territories in research about online political campaigning

The title « Internet and Territories » reminds us that the Internet is often perceived as a territory, a « cyber-space » as L. Lessig puts it. Regarding specifically web archives, internet as territories refers to the various spaces of web archiving and access to the archives. With respect to political science and political communication research, online territories opened by candidates in the elections and their supporters are more and more extensive and sophisticated. The internet archives allow an in-depth analysis of them to be performed.


The title of this session « Internet and Territories » is an opportunity to reflect that spatial metaphors are often used in the case of the Internet, through words such as « online space », « network » or « cyber-space », when referring to the political aspects of communication infrastructures (Lessig, 2006). These metaphors refer mostly to the Internet as a place, a space, rather than as a device embedded in power relationships and used differently depending on social groups and actors. They also respond to a need for imagery on the part of users, and reflect professional practices within the computer science community (Guichard, 2007). But, beyond these territorial metaphors, it is important to think of the Internet as an intertwined mix of very different entities. Web archivists face this technical diversity, when, for instance, machines are unable to archive some of the online materials. Users also have to deal with this, for instance when, browsing from one archived online source to another, or from one archive period to another, they realize they have to work with online sources of various qualities and various scopes.

« Internet and Territories » also refers to the issue of access and to the spaces where users can have access to the web archives. In France, it is possible to have access to the public national web archives either at the National Library in Paris, or, progressively since 2014, in regional libraries. This regional access is likely to increase research work based on internet archives, but it doesn’t mean it is sufficient. The division into different domains (.com, .fr, .eu etc.) and the division of web archiving between the BnF and Ina makes access to the internet archives strange for the user: he/she has to « jump » from an archive to another, with different classification and indexation tools. Obviously, this is due to legal and institutional reasons, but some kind of convergence between the BnF and Ina should be encouraged, so that users could navigate in one, unified, French internet archive in the future. At the European and international levels, web archive institutions could work on interconnections and links between both devices and national domains. The Internet is an international, open network, so it can be quite frustrating for users to realize that public internet archiving is actually organized nationally, country-by-country and national library-by-national library. Some projects, such as the RESAW project in Europe RESAW (http://resaw.eu/), aim at improving this situation by building a unique portal allowing researchers to connect to various national domains and to have access to transnational domains such as .eu.

This is a very important issue for research in political science and political communication, since the web and social networks have become a major part of electoral campaigning and are quickly changing the way citizens participate and are mobilized. In France, the BnF regularly collects online sources regarding electoral campaigns, both nationally and locally. Over the last two decades, this internet archive can be used to show how progressively, the « electronic brochures » used in the 1990s have evolved into an online « participative » political communication, which aims at creating supporter communities and pushing them to do something for candidates and parties.

Using this type of archive within the French-Québec projet webinpolitics.com (http://www.enpolitique.com/), a research project funded by the ANR and the FQRSC1, we monitored the « digital presence » of candidates during the French Presidential campaign 2012 (Gadras et Greffet, 2014). The results show that candidates simultaneously use websites, online social network pages and accounts, as well as video platforms. In other words, online campaigns have become extensive. Compared with Québec, France is a country where websites remain important: when the campaign starts, the party website remains active, a candidate website is opened as well as a campaign website. In Québec, the party website is replaced by a campaign website, and personal websites barely exist for party leaders.

The official online campaign is also disseminated through unofficial online spaces, close to the ones of the candidates but developed by other groups and people. In France in 2012, these unofficial online spaces were more developed for left-wing candidates. Also, contrary to the initial hopes of the internet as an equalizing tool, the dominant candidates and parties were dominant in unofficial spaces as well. This is in favour of the normalization hypothesis, i.e the idea that inequalities in financial and organizational resources are replicated online, rather than being eliminated. Over the campaign however, a mobilization dynamic was observed for all candidates: the number of Facebook « likes » and Twitter « followers » increase whatever their position or final score. But the ranking of the candidates, as measured by their number of likes and followers, didn’t change over time: those who had started with less support finished the campaign with less support.

To sum up, the archived websites, social networks and video platforms allow researchers to analyse both the logic of political communication, as organized by political actors and professional consultants; and citizens’ opinions and comments. In order to do this, internet archives developed by public institutions with a long-term perspective are precious sources.

Fabienne Greffet, Assistant Professor in Political Science, IRENEE and Pacte-CNRS, University of Lorraine

References

-Gadras, Simon. Greffet, Fabienne (2014), « La présence web des candidats en 2012. Espaces officiels et espaces non-officiels de campagne » in Jacques Gerstlé and Raul Magni-Berton (ed.), 2012, la campagne présidentielle. Médias, électeurs et candidats dans la campagne de 2012. Paris, éditions Pepper, 73-87.

-Guichard, Eric (2007), « L’Internet et le territoire », Études de communication, 30, 83-98, available online: https://edc.revues.org/490#tocfrom1n3.

-Lessig, Lawrence (2006), Code version 2.0, New York, Basic Books, available online: http://codev2.cc/download+remix/lessig-codev2.pdf

Video of the presentation:

Archives de l’internet et territoiresFabienne Greffet, enseignante-chercheuse (IRENEE / PACTE), David Lesvenan, président de l’association www.bzh, Frédéric-David Martin, adjoint à la directrice du département de la coopération (BnF), Jérôme Schweitzer, responsable du pôle d’excellence « Alsatiques » (BNU), Marta Severo, enseignante-chercheuse (Univ. Lille 3), Géraldine Poels, responsable de la valorisation scientifique (Ina).

  1. The project was led by Fabienne Greffet (University of Lorraine, France) and Thierry Giasson (University Laval, Québec). Other colleagues involved were Gersende Blanchard (University Lille 3), Simon Gadras (University Lyon 2) and Stéphanie Wojcik (University Paris-Est Créteil) in France; Frédérick Bastien (University of Montréal) and Mireille Lalancette (University Québec-Trois Rivières) in Québec. []

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