Reaction of the Twittersphere on the TV debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

Context and data aquisition

On Wednesday, 20th of April at 9PM the two remaining candidates for the 2022 French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen confronted each other in a debate on French national television. We collected tweets that contain the hashtag #debatmacronlepen the day after in order to observe how the same event is discussed differently by the communities of the French Twittersphere.

Retweet Networks

In order to get a structural overview of the debate, we study the data as a retweet network, in which every node is a Twitter account, and a link is drawn from account A to B if A retweets B. We spatialize this network using a force-directed layout algorithm which places strongly connected nodes closer to each other. Since retweets most often imply endorsement, dense clusters in such spatializations can be related to opinion clusters in the underlying debate.

Click here to use the twitter explorer to interactively explore this retweet network. Accounts with less than 5000 followers (which we consider not to be public figures) cannot be interacted with.

The network presents two poles: one far-right cluster around Marine le Pen and one cluster around Emmanuel Macron and his supporters, mostly centered around his campaign account. Between these two poles are accounts revolving around Jean-Luc Mélenchon and members of his party as well as left-leaning and political parody accounts.

The far right represents a dense community of accounts generating a high number of retweets among each other. Emmanuel Macron’s cluster is less active and appears more isolated from the rest of the network. Some media accounts are found between the clusters, such as Libération, Le Monde and RTL France between Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Mediavenir between the Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen.

Examples of highly retweeted tweets

Antoine Léaument, an important member of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, explains how the debate consists mainly of personal attacks and that the candidates should talk about deeper and more pressing topics.

Looking at highly retweeted tweets from the opposing clusters, we observe that these personal attacks also happen from within the Twittersphere:

Florian Philippot, situated in Le Pen's cluster attacks Macron for his connections to the banking sector:
On the other side, Michel Mompontet from Macron's cluster attacks Le Pen for a vote she made as an MP concerning purchase power:

However, not all tweets are politically motivated attacks, as we can see in these two highly retweeted and liked satirical examples:

This quick network-based exploration of the French Twittersphere shows that the online discussion around the upcoming election can be observed through interaction clusters of accounts. Retweet networks allow for a quick identification of influential actors, which in this case tend to be political figures such as current and past candidates. While such structural overviews are helpful to get a first picture, it is necessary to go deeper into a close-reading of the tweets to gain insights about the actual issues that drive the discussion. The twitter explorer was built for precisely this combination of close and distant reading.