Domination of social media was a key weapon in Donald Trump’s rise to the US presidency, and now France’s far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, is looking to follow suit, analysts say.
Le Pen has more than a million followers on both Twitter and Facebook, giving her a bigger social media platform than any other candidate for the French presidency.
Her party, the National Front (FN), is a veteran presence on the internet — it was the first political group in France to launch a website, back in 1996.
Now the party is trying to use the digital world to trump mainstream rivals and bypass the traditional media, “to speak directly to the public.”
FN supporters are already highly active on Twitter, Facebook and other digital vectors, targeting especially the conservatives’ champion, Francois Fillon.
One method is to undermine Fillion by alleging he has Islamist leanings.
Two hashtags in this regard have been #LeVraiFillon (“#the real Fillon”) and #FaridFillon.
Social media bombardment circumvents the mainstream media, thus avoiding negative or allegedly unfair treatment in that sphere.
Trump was largely vilified in the traditional press but used Twitter, where he has around 20 million followers, to share his message and attack his opponents.
The FN’s approach is somewhat different, firing out its message across several different social media accounts at the same time.
But, like Trump’s, it seeks to craft the image of a movement that is supported by the majority and whose ideas are mainstream, not fringe.
As election time looms, commentators expect the FN and its supporters to mount a crescendo of tweets and hashtags, creating “trending topics” intended to lure other users.
The barrage will polish Le Pen’s image, denigrate her rivals and hound critics — and make her appear to be the vanguard of an unstoppable movement.
The steamroller tactic is a hallmark of Trump’s stunning political upset.
The FN revels in its digital strength, describing it as an ability to reach directly to hearts and minds.