Descartes' visual revolution

Social media: which type of political commentator are you?

EIn France, 90% of the population now has access to the internet. Several social science studies show that, after an initial ‘digital divide’ between individuals with easy access to the Internet and others, a ‘second generation divide’ has emerged around forms of use, linked to the level of skills needed to surf the internet. These two fractures, if not healed, have reduced quite significantly in a few years. But it is very different for expression in digital spaces, where variations are pronounced depending on social class, gender and age, according to principles quite close to those in force in the ‘real world’.

This is especially the case when we look at those who comment on political news on social networks. The teacher-researcher in political science Julien Boyadjian explored this in the magazine in 2016 Communication policy on the “political tweets”these users of the social network now called ‘X’, who devote all or part of their digital activities to political commentary.

In this article, the researcher relies on a survey that combines a quantitative approach based on a questionnaire administered to a panel of just over 600 respondents (and analyzed in relation to a control panel, consisting of non-respondents, of an equivalent volume) and a qualitative approach consisting of a content analysis of Twitter accounts and semi-structured interviews with users.

The questionnaire survey shows that individuals who publish political messages on Twitter form a fairly homogeneous population, within which men, higher education graduates, Parisians, executives, regular voters and even activists are clearly overrepresented: all social characteristics that facilitate a sense of legitimacy. to talk about politics in public, both online and in the real world. The majority are made up of left-wing voters – it is perhaps this dimension that has evolved the most since 2016, with several analyzes in recent years highlighting a rightward shift in this social network.

Four ideal types

The qualitative part of the research reveals more diverse practices. To explain this heterogeneity, Julien Boyadjian identifies four ideal types. This typological approach is common in the social sciences: it is not a matter of strictly ‘classifying’ individuals into one type or another. The analyzed accounts and the Twitterers interviewed therefore never exactly correspond to established types, but they help shed light on the organization, and sometimes the polarization, of the social world.

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