French President Caught Monitoring Blogs: Mon Dieu!

This posting is republished from an article that I wrote for Media Bullseye.

For those of you who have not seen it in the news, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been under fire lately in the French press for, of all things, hiring, as the French call him:

  • Sarkozy’s little cop
  • Sarkozy’s eye on the net
  • Cyber Spin Doctor

What are the French all up in arms about? The French president had the Gaulle (pun intended) to hire a 24 year-old kid to monitor what was being said about the President in the online environment. Mon Dieu!

Bienvenue to 1999, la France! Let’s not forget that it was out our French brethren who actually did help invent the Internet with Mintel in 1982. Yes, 1982. According to Wikipedia:

Since its early days [using Minitel], users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, and chat in a similar way to that now made possible by the Internet.

So what’s the big deal?

I don’t know what is more surprising; that, for the president of a republic to have waited nearly one year into his term to hire someone to monitor what is being said about him in the online environment (Custom Scoop does monitoring in French, BTW), or that the French public would put down their smokes and café au lait and react with outrage that some 24 year-old kid is following what people are saying about Sarkozy.

What is even more surprising is that, in many way, the French “get” online politics, especially the way in which the final two French presidential candidates made use of online tools and tactics. Selogene Royale, the socialist candidate, used her website for, in essence, a “listening tour” of France that would help her gather information and make up a platform of issues and policies. French voters rejected her by a margin of 53 to 47 percent, a sizable victory considering that Royale was the socialist party candidate, one that has traditionally fared well in France.

And Sarkozy? His website was all him. Literally. My French is not good, but it doesn’t have to be, because Sarkozy’s Web site (and now “presidential site”) is all about video, images, music and creating an online image of strong, self-assured leader. The guy, or at least his advisers and most definitely the people who voted for him, understands that his people get the Internet and social media.

So what is it that is causing the French bloggers to become enraged that someone would actually read their blog postings about the president? (Note to French bloggers: isn’t it a good thing if someone in the president’s office actually does read what you are writing?) But, I digress.

Aside from Sarkozy himself, the poor kid at the center of the monitoring controversy is Nicolas Princen. Here are some of the things, as reported by AFP, that are being said in the French blogosphere:

  • “The appointment of Nicolas Princen, who worked on the website of Sarkozy’s presidential campaign last year, has sparked derision but also serious concerns among the online community.” Serious concerns?
  • “One satirical video posted on Dailymotion begins with a poster showing the Soviet symbols the hammer and sickle and bearing the words ‘KGB Web – Elysee. It then shows a man in a wig, his face covered in bandages, advising viewers that they should follow his example and be careful about what they say about the president. I don’t want to end up in a jail, tortured,’ said the man.” KGB?!?!?

Memo to my friends across the Atlantic: the Internet matters to public opinion.

Further note to my friends across the Atlantic: blogs are about opinion, and people have some very strong opinions about the French President and are expressing them in the blogosphere, particularly in regards to a YouTube video in which the French president appeared intoxicated at the G8 Summit.

Sarkozy, who has had several missteps, finally wised up and put someone on the payroll to give him a sense of what was being said about him.

So my unsolicited advice to the French bloggers is to put down the Gauloises, take a deep breath and relax. Having someone reading your blog postings and maybe – just maybe – reacting to them is not a bad thing.


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