As is the case with most politicians nowadays, Marine Le Pen is active on social media platforms. This article will focus on the message she tries to communicate with her social media usage.
Language and politics are one and the same
The discourse politicians use online can determine their image, the way they are received by others, but it can also determine who is the other and how we should perceive them. Pocock (1984) explains the importance of language use within politics. He understands politics as a system of language. Language is a significant political instrument, through which one can gain power. A politician can label things, situations and people through their language use. When a politician says something is a ‘problem’ or ‘not normal’ their language use is a political act. It is performative in the sense that this labelling by a politician can change people’s perception of matters or people. 'Verbalization is a political act’ (Pocock, 1984).
To take this back to Marine Le Pen, she constantly mobilizes an 'us' versus 'them' discourse. Figure 1 shows that Le Pen immediately frames the terrorist attack in Barcelona as being caused by Islamists. This one post is not an exception, it fits into a larger discourse, in which Islam and Muslims are being framed as 'the other'. Le Pen often expresses her dislike of this religion and 'these people' on her social media posts. In her Facebook posts and Tweets we can see that she is pro-Christian and anti-Islamic. Via her online discourse, Le Pen shapes the voice of her followers. Not only that, but this discourse is emblematic for her brand. The fact that these attacks happen ‘prove’ that she is right about Islam and migration. By positioning herself like this on social media platforms, she strengthens her claims by providing her audience with 'proof'.
Political communication through media
Political communication has changed throughout the years. New media and their visual economy have put more and more stress on the overall communicative performance of the politician. Not just the literal discourse on 'the issues' is important, but also the way the politician looks, speaks and performs (Lempert & Silverstein). The identity and political persona of the politician are just as important as what they try to communicate in our contemporary society.
‘A politician’s persona becomes visible as a collage-in-motion of communicative Issue events: through becoming identified in this way with Issues, he or she acquires political persona’ (Lempert & Silverstein, 2012)
This quote by Lempert and Silverstein underlines that there is no distinction between issues and image. The issues a politician addresses are part of their image. Just like any other politician, Le Pen uses her social media to address issues. These posts often link to an article or an interview with Le Pen. By viewing these posts, we can see what she cares about and thus what is emblematic for her. In order to gain more insight into the issues that help construct Le Pen's image, I decided to visualize her discourse with a language analysis tool.
I ran lots of her Facebook posts through this language analysis tool. The results (figure 2) show which words she uses the most in her Facebook posts. We see 'Français', 'islamiste', détachement', 'terrorisme', 'calais' and 'européenne'. Marine Le Pen's slogan is 'au nom du peuple', which translates to 'in the name of the people'. Marine Le Pen thus pretends to speak with the voice of the French people on social media. She portrays herself as a representative of the people of France and tries to produce recognition. The message she is trying to put forward by posting her opinion on the issues she addresses on her social media accounts, is that the people of France are all on the same page on the issues mentioned. If that were the case, she would indeed be speaking in the name of the people.
The message she is trying to convey is that she speaks 'au nom du peuple'.
Message means organization. It is not individual; people help construct your message: marketers, campaigners, but also the audience (Lempert & Silverstein, 2012). The way one's message is received is determined by the audience. Message is therefore dialogical and not based on just one event. The audience seems to respond 'okay' to Le Pen's online presence. She doesn'tget a crazy amount of likes and shares on her posts, which indicates that she is not that popular. If we take a look at the politicians with the largest fanbase (figure 3), Le Pen is not even close, with her 1,533,067 followers (data collected on 02-12-2017). On Facebook, the emojis that people use to react to her posts are often in line with what she says. She does not seem to get many angry faces. The angry faces are only there when Marine Le Pen exclaims her discontent about a certain issue in her posts. By reacting with angry emoticons, the audience shows that they are also angry about the same issue. The comments on her posts are mostly positive. Most of the comments are coming from her target audience, which would explain the positivity. Someone commented that Marine Le Pen is 'simple, clear and pure'. This is the way her target audience receives and thus co-constructs her message. However, there are also negative comments. The people who do not like Le Pen label her as a 'witch', 'fake' and a 'hypocrite'. Her message is thus interpreted by her target audience as positive, simple, clear and pure, but opponents of her ideas see her as hypocritical.
Message is constructed by being consistent; being 'on message'. This does not mean you have to talk perfectly. You have to carry and embody a message in such a way that it is believable. You should align yourself with the dominant ideology in your target audience. One can be 'off message' as well (Lempert & Silverstein, 2012): this entails the risk of losing touch with one's target audience. Le Pen seems to be 'on message' almost all the time. However, she has made a few slips, especially when she lost the French elections. Le Pen said that 'she was leader of “the biggest opposition force” in France and vowed to radically overhaul her party' (Henley & Malkin). The message she is trying to bring across when she is 'on message' is that she and her party are deradicalized. In this quote, she literally states that she would radically overhaul her party, which means she is 'off message' here.
Her patriotism and anti-immigration views are a central topic in her social media posts (as can be seen in figure 2). 'Marine Le Pen has gathered more than 2.5 million web activists with messages on patriotism and anti-immigration that were shared on Facebook and Twitter' (Berger, 2017). This indicates that she is successful in appealing to her target audience.
The message she provides is clear, but not really powerful.
'A really powerful “message" ascribes to me –as opposed to describes- my reality. It allows my audience to image-ine a whole set of plausible stories in the fictive universes of the must-have-been, the could-be, and especially, the sure-as-hell-will-be (I’ll vote for that!”)' (Silverstein, 2003).
However, Marine Le Pen does not seem to follow what Silverstein is saying in the quote above. The message she provides is clear, but not really powerful. This has been deduced from the fact that she does not have the votes of the French people. Macron has beat Le Pen in France's elections in 2017 (Henley & Malkin). Even though she pretends to speak with the voice of the people, she apparently does not truly know what the people want. A good communicator 'gets "the message" across while tackling different issues, create an image of themselves that aligns with their message and the spirit of times and address different demographic groups in society' (Maly, 2017). Where it goes wrong with Le Pen, is that she does not address different demographic groups in society. This could be the reason why her message is not received well by everyone online.
Marine Le Pen, a woman with a very specific voice
Marine Le Pen uses her social media accounts as a way to convey her political message. She posts about specific issues, which she thinks are of importance to the French people. Marine Le Pen is 'on message' by sticking to her ideals and consistently providing the same opinion on matters such as immigration. Le Pen is succesful in appealing to her target audience, which are patriotic French people. However, the entire French population isn't made up of this target audience alone. Marine Le Pen is not a good communicator in the sense that she only focuses on one specific demographic group in society. Therefore, she does not truly speak with the voice of 'the people', but with the voice of a very specific group of people.
Berger, N. A. (2017). Twenty-First Century Politics: The Power of Populism in France and Germany.
Henley, J., & Malkin, B. (2017). Macron beats Le Pen in French presidential election – as it happened. The Guardian.
Le Pen, M. Facebook.
Le Pen, M. Twitter.
Lempert, M., & Silverstein, M. (2012). Creatures of Politics. Indiana University Press.
Maly, I. (2017). Lecture 2: Message. Digital Media & Politics.
Pocock, J. (1984). English and European Political Inheritance. Encyclopedia of American Political History: Studies of the Principal Movements and Ideas, 513-534.
Silverstein, M. (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Chicago: Pergamon.
Socialbakers. (2017). Facebook Society stats - Politics.