An Influencer at The Elysee Palace

By Edith Mabanda Binzunga

When I think of a president or a head of state, I stereotypically think about a person wearing a suit,sitting behind their office vetoing or signing bills, representing a nation in talks with foreign countries,and giving speeches in front of their citizens. I certainly do not think about a person wearing a tee shirt, delivering a speech to an assembly through their phone, in selfie mode.

And yet, I was surprised in August 2021 when I saw President Macron in my Instagram discover feed filming himself from his presidential retreat in the south of France, answering questions on France’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, wearing a casual tee-shirt and only with a French flag in the background to recall the solemnity of the presidential function.

It is clear that social media have become an essential asset in the political arena when it comes to amplifying important messages quickly, such as disseminating health information to the public through diverse media platforms. It has also become an asset, especially when it comes to “charming” youth. Emmanuel Macron's communications team has understood this well and takes advantage of every opportunity to stage the French president.

The Elysée Palace recently posted a series of videos on Instagram where the French president is answering questions from young people on climate change while reusing codes of famous YouTubers, such as hard cuts in editing and Sponge Bob memes. Phone in hand and jacket off, the president reads out loud questions sent to him via Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat before answering them, facing the camera. It is not the first time that the president has used social media in order to “seduce" French youth.

In February 2021, Emmanuel Macron issued a challenge to McFly and Carlito, two famous French YouTubers whose channel has 7.2 million subscribers. The challenge was to create a song that would encourage young people to adopt protective behaviours to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. As an incentive, the president promised that both YouTubers could film their next video at the Elysée Palace if it hit 10 million views. The duo easily won the challenge and filmed a video where they participated in an “anecdote competition” with President Macron, who in this video came across as sympathetic and playful. The video, which came out on Sunday February 21st 2021, was a success and clocked up eight million views by Monday 22nd lunchtime.

With over 76% of French people having a social media account in 2022, we can argue that using social media for government communications can be a valuable tool. It allows President Macron to connect with the public and have effective conversations that can benefit both parties. Moreover, theuse of social media by the president means that he might be able to better understand what is happening in his country. Using social media is also an opportunity for politicians to look more approachable compared to seeing them on a tv show.

As a young president keen to align himself with technology, social media suits him and his communications team. Being on Snapchat or Instagram is a winning strategy for Macron when it comes to winning over French youth, as these applications are particularly liked by the 15-24 age group in France. Social media allows him to express himself in an unlimited way while reaching young people.

However, we must ask ourselves whether social media has a place in politics. Can the president help young people by making videos with influencers? Some argue that seeing President Macron addressing the youth with humour online dumbs down the presidency and that he is only taking advantage of famous influencers in order to get sympathy from young people while compensating for the lack of action of his government towards the French Youth. Politics is a serious business dealing with serious issues. Seeing politicians doing TikTok challenges that young people are doing in their bedroom can leave some of us dubious.

Politicians' use of social media can also be a way to engage with the general public directly while avoiding critics from journalists, as we saw during Donald Trump’s term when he claimed on Twitter that the 2020 US election was fraudulent, which led to the Capitol attack on January 6th 2021.

As long as people will continue to use social media, politicians will be on these platforms as well to spread their messages which could have positive results or disastrous consequences.

A screenshot of a video posted on Emmanuel Macron's official Instagram account on August 2nd 2021