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How France’s far-right is winning the TikTok battle

If social media statistics were a solid predictor of voting intentions, France’s far-right leader Jordan Bardella would be a shoo-in for PM.

Jordan Bardella has an edge over Gabriel Attal on TikTok
Jordan Bardella has an edge over Gabriel Attal on TikTok - Copyright Gumi City Council/AFP Handout
Jordan Bardella has an edge over Gabriel Attal on TikTok - Copyright Gumi City Council/AFP Handout
Daxia ROJAS

If social media statistics were a solid predictor of voting intentions, France’s far-right leader Jordan Bardella would be a shoo-in for prime minister.

The 28-year-old, leading the push for the anti-immigration National Rally (RN), is trouncing current Prime Minister Gabriel Attal — at least on TikTok.

The RN was a big winner in this month’s European elections, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve parliament and call a snap election for June 30 and July 7.

Pollsters expect the RN to do well, but the big question is whether they will get an overall majority and control of the legislature in the European Union’s second-biggest economy.

Bardella has said he will not take the role of prime minister unless the party wins an outright majority.

On TikTok, the election is being played out in sometimes spicy vignettes.

Attal, heading the campaign for Macron’s centrist Renaissance party and just seven years older than Bardella, has called out his rival directly.

“If you don’t need anything, call Jordan Bardella,” Attal said in a clip filmed during pre-election campaigning, accusing Bardella’s camp of “absolute amateurism”.

Bardella, often filming pieces to camera from the comfort of his car, calmly warned against the dangers of misinformation in a close-up video on Thursday.

He repeatedly claims his party is being misrepresented by mainstream media.

But whether any of this will sway the election is up in the air.

– ‘Codes of authenticity’ –

Experts say it can be a fool’s errand to try to link social media popularity to votes.

“It is very difficult to measure the effect of social networks on electoral results,” said Marie Neihouser, a specialist in digital media and politics at Toulouse University.

Yet there is broad agreement that Bardella is succeeding where many politicians struggle.

“He is the only one who has incorporated the codes of authenticity into his video content,” Tristan Boursier, a researcher at Paris’s Sciences Po university, told AFP.

Alongside more traditional campaign videos, Bardella often appears in candid scenes, drinking pastis, eating Haribo sweets ahead of TV debates or preparing for an awkward meeting.

When appearing on television, he said in one clip, “I always eat sweets or sugar. It stops me feeling hungry, and then I’m galvanised for two hours.”

The approach “makes him likeable, human and presents him as authentic,” said Boursier.

His team posts more frequently than those of his rivals, and with far better numbers.

Bardella’s warning about misinformation had garnered more than one million views by Friday midday, compared with 300,000 for Attal’s chiding of Bardella.

Overall, Bardella has 1.7 million followers — having added some 500,000 since early June.

Attal has just over 300,000. Macron has 4.5 million but has not posted during the election campaign.

– ‘He’s funny’ –

The focus on TikTok helps shift the dynamic away from policies and on to personalities, helpful for Bardella who is one of France’s most popular politicians, according to opinion polls.

He has not revolutionised RN’s platform — their campaigning still drills the usual far-right mantra of immigration, national identity and law and order.

The party is also sceptical of climate science and conservative on issues like gay rights.

Despite polling in many countries suggesting young people are liberal on these issues, one quarter of French voters aged 18-24 backed the RN in the European election.

“He’s funny, he has the same references as me,” said Maya, an 18-year-old RN voter from near Paris who declined to give her surname.

Maya, who has followed the campaigns on social media, said RN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen was a “scumbag” but insisted Bardella was different — at least in his presentation.

“I know the RN isn’t very open about LGBT rights but laws protecting them are already in place, so nothing will change,” she said.

Marie Neihouser suggested the RN is looking well beyond this election with its TikTok strategy.

“Today’s teenagers will be tomorrow’s voters and reaching out to them now with his posts anchors his image in their minds,” she said.

“In five or 10 years, it will be more natural for them to slip a Bardella ballot into the ballot box.”

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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