Thursday, June 02, 2005

It's the Blogs wot done (some of) it

According to none other than the BBC website, it seems the unsung heros of the French referendum campaign were the bloggers.

The report singles out Marseille law teacher Etienne Chouard, dubbed by a French newspaper as "Don Quichotte du non". who did not much care for the EU constitution. Instead of simply voicing his upset to his neighbours, though, he wrote an essay and set up a blog to explain why he was voting "non". Just ahead of the vote, his blog was getting 25,000 hits a day and his anti-constitution broadside had been photocopied, faxed and blogged about across France.

The BBC remarks that, despite overwhelming support for the constitution by the governments of both France and the Netherlands and a huge media campaign by political leaders in both countries, voters have rejected the constitution. And just as the media and political establishment in the US found during last year's presidential election, European elites have now felt the sting of these online upstarts, the bloggers.

Mr Chouard, the teacher turned blogger, has become a folk hero for the "non" campaigners who rebelled against what they saw as an out of touch political elite. Fans posting to his blog have asked where they can send contributions to erect a statue of him in Marseille,

Needless to say, the "yes" campaign is crying foul. French internet consultant Stanislas Magniant claims that the blogs were perpetuating myths and half-truths (would we do this?) but the "antis" found the internet in general and blogs in particular as one of the ways to get their message out, he said. Because the mainstream media have been shamelessly in favour of the "yes", they found the internet was the main area where the democratic debate can take place, he added.

However both "yes" and "no" campaigners used the internet and blogs extensively, but the "yes" side's internet efforts were too late and too little. "The 'no' side, the extreme left, was very organised on the internet. The 'yes' side has been late in taking up blogs as interactive tools," said Magniant.

Magniant does not say that blogs were a determining factor in the referendum, but he does believe they dramatically lowered the barrier to entry to take part in political debate. "In terms of grassroots power, blogs have been an enormous force," he said.

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