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What colours are the yellow vests? An ideological scaling of Facebook groups

Jean-Philippe Cointet, Pedro Ramaciotti Morales, Dominique Cardon, Caterina Froio, Andrei Mogoutov, Benjamin Ooghe, Guillaume Plique

The Yellow Vests' motto is "neither right wing nor left wing". Rather than "taking sides", they have chosen to dismiss entrenched political parties altogether, setting them back to back. Yet, when they emerged in France the public space was already informed by pre-existing structures and rife with tensions. Their actions are therefore necessarily situated, embedded in this space and imbued with some of its properties. This calls for an examination of the movement's role and the position of its digital expression on Facebook. How do online citation practices reveal not so much the movement's political colour, but the political space that informs it and which it in turn informs ? This article answers this question by introducing an original methodological framework that makes it possible to extend ideological embeddedness of Twitter users to posts published on Facebook. We first use a correspondence analysis to reduce the adjacency matrix that links French members of parliament to their Twitter followers. This first step allows us to identify two latent axes which are decisive in explaining the structure of the network. The first dimension distributes individuals according to their position on the left-to-right axis of the political space, and we interpret the second as a measure of distance to power. These two dimensions frame a space in which we then position hundreds of thousands of Twitter users along with URLs and media cited on the platform and, by extension, publications from almost 1,000 of the most active Facebook groups in the Yellow Vests movement. We finally quantify the evolution in these groups' publications within the latent ideological space, to provide both an interpretation and an answer to the question of the movement's political orientation. The dynamics observed support the interpretation of a movement that was initially fuelled by far right-wing resources but then quickly shifted to the left while maintaining an attitude of dissent. This portrait sketched through the lens of the Yellow Vests' use of media on Facebook perfectly illustrates the idea of a multifaceted populism.