Themes and discussions from eight months in the French political blogosphere Tim Highfield Queensland University of Technology [email_address]
Disclaimer This presentation covers work that forms part of a larger, ongoing project, part of which was discussed in the previous paper, and the rest of which informs my phd research. There may be some overlap in methodology and presentation structure between this paper and the preceding presentation.
Overview The wider project is a comparative study of political blogging in France and Australia, mainly focussing on the flow of information between blogs and also media sites. Builds on previous work on the Australian political blogosphere by Axel Bruns, Jason Wilson, Barry Saunders, Lars Kirchhoff, and Thomas Nicolai. Currently halfway through the PhD, getting into initial analyses after the first data collection phase. Australian findings have already been outlined at ANZCA 2009 and here. First look at the French data set. Given technical limitations and problems, this is a very tentative pilot study, examining what data has been collected, what it shows, and what might be done with it. This presentation serves as an introduction to the French political blogosphere in 2009, but further work is required for greater understanding of the activity and networks present.
Specifically: This presentation looks at day-to-day, and event-oriented, activity in the French political blogosphere. Questions of interest to this study include: Do some events/topics/themes provoke more activity than others? Do non-political events/characters receive similar, or greater, attention to political topics? Are some topics/themes/characters common conversation points/names that are mentioned often?
Methodology An initial seed list of political blogs, mainstream and alternative/independent news media sites, political party and politician websites, and other, related sites was created. Blogs featured in the list were drawn from blog ranking sites and search engines (e.g. Wikio.fr), as well as previous studies looking at French political blogs such as those by RTGI. Further sites were added to the list by manually following up in-post links and blogrolls from the first sites. URLs and RSS feed addresses included for each site. Original list had ~450 blogs, media, and other associated sites and their feeds from which data was to be collected. Although the work so far focuses on blog activity, mainstream media and related sites were included in the crawl for future comparative work.
In this study: Posts featured in the data set for this presentation were published between 12 January and 10 August 2009 . Data collection and preparation carried out by Lars Kirchhoff and Thomas Nicolai at Sociomantic Labs. Content of each post – text and links – separated from other page elements, ads, static page navigation appearing in the collected data. The mainstream media articles collected still need a further processing stage, so this presentation looks solely at blog posts published over the first eight months of 2009. Total: 22,939 posts from 148 active blogs over 221 days, out of a total return of 167,330 posts and articles from 217 feeds.
The French political blogosphere Right: RTGI map, created in 2007 around that year's French Presidential election (2042 sites). France found to be one of the most active European blogging populations (Forrester Research 2006), with political blogging continuing to be popular. The French political blogospheres provides a useful counterpoint to two-party-dominated nations such as the U.S. or Australia. This study is not as comprehensive in the number of sites featured as the above research, but can be used as starting point for examining what might have been seen as interesting/major discussion topics within the French political blogosphere in the first half of 2009.
A brief history of 2009 January 20: Barack Obama becomes U.S. President Late January to March: strikes in Guadeloupe, spreading to other overseas departments of France. 29 March: Mayotte votes to become a French overseas department. 3-4 April: NATO summit in Strasbourg. 9 April: proposed HADOPI law on internet piracy, rights protection, and distribution of creative material online rejected by the Assemblée Nationale 12-13 May: HADOPI law passed by the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat 1 June: Air France flight 447 crashes in the Atlantic Ocean 10 June: the Constitutional Council rejects part of the HADOPI law as unconstitutional.
Blog activity, January – August 2009 Note: 18 March – political upheaval in Madagascar, and the day before a national 'day of action' against Sarkozy but will need further research to see what caused the spike. Noticeable dip in activity around weekends, decline July-August around summer holidays but further analysis still required over this period.
Total activity : 22,939 posts over 211 days at 108 posts per day, ~3200 posts per month * 'January' in this study only lasts for 21 days, 'August' for ten Monthly averages:
Posts per blog over eight months 105 sites (out of 148 active blogs) with an average of one or more posts per week across eight months
Event-specific cases: Looking at posts made on particular days or over specified date range to see what events or topics attracted blog coverage. 1. The Obama inauguration: 19-21 January. Covering the build-up, inauguration day, and the day after. Blog posts per day:
Discussion themes and concepts, 19 – 21 January: All three days saw above-average numbers of posts. Obama the most frequently occuring name over the three days, ahead of Sarkozy – linked in the concept map by the term president rather than posts connecting the two. The Middle East conflict – represented here by Gaza, Hamas, and Israel – also attracted citations from French political blogs during this period.
Day-by-day: Sarkozy attracts more mentions than Obama on 19 January, with the most Obama references on 21 January. Obama in context: The significance of his victory, Ethnicity, diversity, and whether a 'French Obama' could become president The Obama campaign strategy and continued use of the internet (and other technology) Sarkozy in context: Absence from the inauguration Disputes with transport unions Banks and the financial crisis Presidential visit to Egypt 20 January 19 January 21 January
2. HADOPI : its rejection, its resurrection, and the Constitutional Council's response April - June 2009. 9-10 April: HADOPI 12-14 May: HADOPI strikes back 10-11 June: Return of HADOPI
HADOPI Discussion: April (using Leximancer) The vote against HADOPI gets some attention, although not the term with the most mentions (Sarkozy) Links to participants in the vote and the PS (leading the vote against HADOPI) Sarkozy references less-focused, with many different blogs mentioning him, or the Sarkozy government, but in a wide range of stories.
HADOPI Discussion: May Sarkozy again outnumbered HADOPI references, but European themes attracted The most discussion. The forthcoming European elections (June 2009) forms part of the European-oriented Concept cluster. Very few references to both Sarkozy and HADOPI. Instead, among the variety of Sarkozy-related stories, the question of Turkey's entrance into the EU and Sarkozy's stance on this attracts some attention. HADOPI receives the most mentions on 14 May, after both the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat had voted on it, with some discussion on what might the solution to the internet piracy and protecting creative works online.
HADOPI Discussion: June European issues again feature Over this period, coming in the Week after the European elections. Although HADOPI is a rather peripheral concept, it still receives mentions by 20 different blogs over the two days, although only a few examine the decision by the Constitutional Council and downloading beyond passing references.
Discussion Sarkozy, as might be expected, received many mentions over all cases analysed for this paper. However, presence of blogs essentially covering every appearance and decision made by Sarkozy, and groups dedicated to watching Sarkozy, may skew the figures. European themes appear several times, but further refinement of the methodology used here will be required to identify and distinguish between specific issues. International/non-European events can receive some coverage, but this will also Require further work, and locating possible topics, before any similarities in event Types can be determined. Discussion of international events may be a useful Point of comparison with Australian political blog activity.
Limitations and Issues Although 217 sites produced at least one article over this period that was collected during the crawls, total number of sites from which content was obtained was less than half of the original list. Some sites may have been inactive, but others may have had RSS feed or address errors. Rechecking and revising the seed list, which happened towards the end of the data collection period, will need to take place before further crawls. Issues in collecting and processing the data meant the extent of analysis for this paper Was limited to a far greater extent than originally expected, with some categories having To excluded because of these problems. As such, the cases used for this presentation were identified by reverse-engineering, having the textual data before any trends and statistical data. Further work on this data set will be able to examine other cases and periods of high or low blog activity. Although containing a French stoplist,the Leximancer processes still need more involvement from the user perspective than English content in removing concepts that should have been killed automatically (problems of different characters).
Further applications and directions Thorough study of day-to-day activity, posting patterns within the French political Blogosphere Further analysis of blogs categorised by ideology/party affiliation Identifying and treating different blog activity/posting styles – as well as additional channels for posting and sharing links Incorporation of data collected from other sources – e.g. long-term rankings of political blogs by Wikio.fr Analysis of the mainstream media (and other sources) over this period, comparison of themes and coverage Hyperlink analysis and network mapping Refinement of method and application of the processes here to the Australian political blogosphere data set.