Elyze: The Tinder of Politics

By Edith Mabanda Binzunga

As a French citizen living abroad, I can sometimes feel a bit distant from French politics, and it was difficult for me last year to keep up with the April 2022 French presidential election. A few weeks before the first round of the election, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I first heard of a new mobile application called “Elyze” - a pun with the name Elise and the official residence of the president of the French Republic, the Elysée Palace.

This application was available to download in January 2022. It was created by two students, Grégoire Cazcarra and François Marri whose goal was to spark the interest of young people for the next election. Indeed,abstention is an issue in France among young voters: just over two-thirds of young French citizens aged 18 to 29 voted in both rounds of the 2017 presidential elections and 82% of young people aged 18 to 35 in France abstained from voting during the 2021 regional elections. The two students wanted to convince young people to vote.

But how does Elyze work? Elyze is a Tinder-style application. Instead of helping you find your perfect match for a date, Elyze matches you with your ideal president. Users have to swipe left or right to agree or disagree with a series of anonymous proposals, such as granting 16 years old the right to vote, abolishing free movements of citizens in the European Union, or immediately closing old nuclear power plants. It then ranks each user's matches by affinity to each of the dozen candidates. That was enough to convince me. I wanted to keep up with the election and the different proposals of the candidates. Therefore I downloaded it.

Elyze is free, easy to use and does not contain ads. Each anonymous policy also has a brief explanation as well as the option to skip the proposals. I can sometimes be discouraged from reading candidates’ lengthy manifestos, but with this intuitive application, it only takes a few seconds to understand each proposal. The launch of this application was a success: it was downloaded over 1.2 million times in just over two weeks and rose to the top of the download charts in France.

Following the success of this new application, users, as well as candidates, started raising their concerns. Can we really trust this application with our data? Can Elyze truly be neutral? Jean-Luc Mélenchon, one of the candidates for the April 2022 French presidential election, noted that President Emmanuel Macron was placed first in the user's ranking even if he tied with multiple other candidates. Although the two creators of the application declared that they would solve this technical bug, data concerns were also raised. Elyze collects user data, such as gender, postal code and voting preferences. These are valuable data that political parties or political communication teams would kill to obtain.

Indeed, these issues spark memories of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal that stained the US 2016 presidential election: Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm which worked for the Trump campaign,

purchased Facebook data on tens of millions of Americans without their knowledge in order to build personality profiles and tailored advertisements for each person to sway them into voting for Donald Trump.

Applications like Elyze and social media can spark concerns about democracy in the digital age because they can be seen as new opportunities to influence election outcomes. These new digital tools need regulation; otherwise, future elections will be ruled by the parties that can use social media algorithms most effectively.

The two creators of Elyze declared that neutrality was their driving force and that no candidates benefited from any preferential treatment. Some people started questioning this statement in June 2022 when Grégoire Cazcarra was appointed advisor in charge of digital communication, in the cabinet of government spokesperson Olivia Grégoire.

Can voting advice applications have an impact on young voters? Some argue that applications can not replace programmes and debates. In the future, we might see a proliferation of voting advice applications in elections worldwide with an increase in online activities. People also might feel sceptical of those virtual interactions and have an enhanced appreciation of offline information and conversations. Only time will tell if these applications are beneficial and can remain transparent.

The image source: The Elyze application. “Granting 16 years old the right to vote.”