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Building support for the radical left through social media: the case of Syriza in Greece

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Building support for the radical left through social media: the case of Syriza in Greece

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Presentation at the Conference: CONNECTING TO THE MASSES
100 Years from the Russian Revolution: From Agitprop to the Attention Economy, Amsterdam, 13-14 November 2017

Presentation at the Conference: CONNECTING TO THE MASSES
100 Years from the Russian Revolution: From Agitprop to the Attention Economy, Amsterdam, 13-14 November 2017

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Building support for the radical left through social media: the case of Syriza in Greece

  1. 1. Building support for the radical left through social media the case of Greece Nikos Smyrnaios Université de Toulouse
  2. 2. The context Syriza: coalition of the Greek non Stalinist radical left It’s rise to power is a unique phenomenon in Europe: Vote percentage x8 in 5 years. From 13 MPs in 2009 to 149 in 2015 (out of 300) Against the mainstream media & the political establishment in Greece & the EU
  3. 3. The context Multiple factors explain this phenomenon: - Greece’s particular political history - Dramatic socio-economic crisis & extreme austerity - Nepotism & corruption of traditional political parties - Distrust in mainstream media - Powerful social movement between 2010 & 2014 …but also the rise of overwhelming support for Syriza online
  4. 4. Research question & method What was the socio-political process that built overwhelming support for Syriza on social media ? Historical narrative of the “complex sociotechnical and system” & the particular political context that helps a popular movement for change to expand (Lim, 2012) Empirical material: Interviews with activists & members of Syriza Participant observation in two campaigns (disclosure) Study of online content from 2006 to 2015
  5. 5. The early days (2006-2009) Greek political activism online was limited to Indymedia Athens up to the middle of the 2000s From 2006 rise of the Greek blogosphere: modernist technophile elite, « liberal consensus » against conservatism, political activism against corruption May 2006: 4th European Social Forum in Athens October 2006: SYRIZA’s successful election campaign for municipality of Athens headed by Alexis Tsipras (32) August 2007: first protest organised by bloggers in Athens against massive wildfires
  6. 6. The early days (2006-2010) February 2008: Tsipras becomes leader of SYRIZA X-generation, anti-globalisation movement & social forums, close to the blogosphere, try to modernize SYRIZA Tsipras’ first interview as SYRIZA’s leader is to citizen journalism webradio (Radiobubble) December 2008: massive riots in Greece after the assassination of Alexis Grigoropoulos by a policeman Alternative media explode: start-ups (TVXS), citizen journalism (Radiobubble), hashtag reporting (#Griots) Tsipras’ personal friends with “street credibility” & tenths of SYRIZA sympathisers connect to it (they will be at the heart of future campaigns)
  7. 7. The early days (2006-2010) April 2009: Obama’s online campaign organizer invited by SYRIZA. Strategic choice to invest the internet in order to counter mainstream propaganda Online political polarization mainly between progressives (of radical Left/SYRIZA and Center Left/PASOK) versus conservatives (Right/New Democracy) October 2009: PASOK under Papandreou win elections with first major online political campaign in Greece, co-opting of the “progressive” blogosphere April 2010: Greece declared bankrupt, 1st Memorandum (forced loans from EU & IMF + extreme austerity measures). 2nd Memorandum in February 2011
  8. 8. The early days (2006-2010) May 2011: Spanish Indignados occupy Plaza del Sol, Greek Aganaktismenoi occupy Syntagma square Through 2011 & 2012 massive protests, repeated police brutality, social media denounce repression & propaganda Protests & digital/physical hubs (e.g. Radiobubble) further connect SYRIZA & social media activists Online political polarization shifts to pro-austerity (Center Left/Pasok & Right/ND) versus anti-austerity (Left/Syriza & patriots/populists ) May/June 2012: first electoral success of Syriza that becomes the main opposition to reactionary pro-austerity right wing government. Neo-Nazis enter Parliament
  9. 9. The road to power (2013-2015) October 2013: European Left designates Tsipras for the presidency of the European Commission. Tours Europe SYRIZA creates a dedicated social media team for campaign Team (n=20) with very small budget but a lot of enthusiasm. Many experts (data scientists, communication strategists, journalists) work for free Office not in SYRIZA’s HQs => complete autonomy from politicians. The campaign federates tenths of “influencers” Strategy connected with social movements (spontaneous participation); uses coverage about the Greek crisis to speak about Europe; coordinates internationally (transform!); relies on creativity coming from the base; radical but also “informal” discourse (humour, flexibility)
  10. 10. It
  11. 11. The road to power (2013-2015) Tsipras gains reputation in the EU (+17 MPs for EL, from 35 to 52) and popularity in Greece, SYRIZA becomes 1st party in Summer 2014: Access to power is only a matter of time. Tsipras starts meetings with mainstream media moguls (contacts apparently started in 2012) The social media team falls apart, one of the 2 main coordinators resigns over political differences January 25 2015: Snap elections in Greece. A social media team is put together only 40 days prior Electoral communication centred on Tsipras, conceived by ad agencies & consultants outside SYRIZA, chosen by Tsipras 1st circle
  12. 12. #SYRIZA on Twitter after the Greek Elections of January25 2015 SYRIZA’s victory still has a massive international impact
  13. 13. Negotiation and defeat (2015) Tsipras’ government tries to negotiate with Troïka on a moderate basis (strategy co-authored by Varoufakis), as months pass the Greek government’s position gets weaker Many members of the social media team get jobs in government, one of the 2 coordinators becomes Tsipras’ personal CM Members who voice criticism are not proposed jobs, are marginalised June 2015: BCE imposes capital controls July 2015: Tsipras calls for a Referendum on the Troïka’s austerity plan, 62% reject it (last popular act of defiance) One week after Tsipras signs the austerity plan
  14. 14. #Greferendum on Twitter Greek referendum still has a massive international impact. But it was the last time..
  15. 15. You’ll find all my analyses from that period, including graphs, on ephemeron.eu Thanks !

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