Update: How the AfD ditched Euroscepticism and embraced immigration, in one picture

Update February 5, 2018

In March 2017, I posted a graph which shows how the AfD’s Facebook posts moved away from euroscepticism and Greece-bashing towards immigration and Islamophobia.

This research on the AfD has now been published as part of a larger project.

But trends can change, and local regression smoothers have a habit of behaving strangely at the borders. So I downloaded another year’s worth of Facebook posts and reran the scripts:

Update: How the AfD ditched Euroscepticism and embraced immigration, in one picture 1

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the new graph confirms for 2017 what we have seen for 2016: Muslims and immigrants are all the rage, whereas the Euro crisis is so 2014. I leave the old graph/post below as is for comparison.

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The AfD’s Facebook strategy (Bloomberg)

I had a lengthy chat with someone from Bloomberg on the AfD and their use of Social Media. The result is a short piece with some soundbites by me. If you want to know a little more about the AfD’s role in the darker corners of the German Interwebs, have a look at my APSA Paper on the AfD and Social Media (colourful pictures to be found towards the end of the PDF).

The Alternative für Deutschland’s Facebook Fanpage is a Prime Location for Rightist Online Discourses in Germany

One rather intriguing feature of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party is their very strong social media presence, especially on Facebook. I’m currently updating and expanding my previous analysis of this page, and the stats are impressive. From March 2013 until June 2015, the federal party’s account has posted 2188 updates, roughly 2.5 per day. Even more impressive are the 57,034 posts by other accounts (about 69 per day). While it is easy to buy likes, that level of activity is hard to fake: This is a busy place for europhobes and immigration sceptics.

As everywhere on the internet, things get a little scary once you start looking at the comments: people left 558,990 of them. You read that right, more than half a million in under 28 months. Because I’m interested in dialogues/exchanges, I’ve extracted those posts that received at least five comments. The figure is 10,652, or 13 per day. 229 of these posts could not be inspected, presumably because they have been deleted or otherwise tampered with. The remaining 10,424 now reside on my harddisk, which glows in the dark.

AfD facebook comments
Comments on the Alternative für Deutschland’s (AfD) Facebook wall over time

Looking at the distribution of comments over time, there is a moderate downward trajectory, as well as characteristic spikes on election days (the federal election in 2013, the EP election in May 2014, three Eastern state election in August/September 2014, and two Western state elections in 2015).

Before further digging into the texts, I’ve had a look at the distribution of commentators. Apart from the AfD themselves, 52,347 unique accounts have commented on the subset of 10,424 posts. Half of these (25,275) have commented only once, but an insane 6,792 have commented at least 10 times. The number of accounts that have 100 or more comments under their belt? 477. And then there is one account with 1938 comments. Go figure.

The AfD Leadership Struggle, in One Picture

In 2013 and for much of 2014, Bernd Lucke was very much the public face of the AfD. One of the main findings in my recent analysis of the AfD in West European Politics is that this role was reflected and strengthened by the party’s Social Media strategy: A large proportion of the posts by the party on their very popular Facebook fanpage referred to Lucke. Frauke Petry and particularly Konrad Adam, his nominally equal co-leaders, were mentioned much less frequently.

But is this still true? My original data collection ended in mid-2014, when Lucke moved to Brussels, which would make it more difficult for him to directly control the party’s media strategy. Moreover, in summer 2014 the internal strife over the future leadership structure of the party intensified.

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How often does the AfD’s official Facebook account mention which of the party’s leading politicians?

I’m currently in the process of digging deeper into what the AfD and their supporters do on Facebook and have collected almost eleven more months of posts, so addressing the question of agenda control is relatively straightforward. Since March 2013, the AfD’s social media team have posted 2147 items on Facebook. For each month, I look at the proportion of posts that mentions Lucke, Hans-Olaf Henkel (his most prominent supporter), Alexander Gauland (a state party leader who became something of an anti-Lucke during the state election campaigns in East Germany in 2014), Markus Pretzell and Björn Höcke (two state party leaders who represent more radical forces and openly oppose Lucke’s reign), and Frauke Petry (the Saxonian state party leader who will probably mount a leadership challenge against Lucke in June). Typically, theses posts contain a soundbite by the respective politician or a short report on some political initiative.

The series are short and noisy, but the emerging picture is rather clear. Overall, Lucke’s presence is still remarkable (about one in seven posts mentions him), but after the EP election (represented by the vertical line), he was mentioned much less frequently than before for about four months that coincide with the Eastern campaigns and their aftermath. Henkel only rose to prominence a couple of months before the EP election, which makes sense: He was a late-comer to the party, who might already be on his way out. Pretzell hardly features at all, although he is leader of the single biggest state party and one of the most prominent (and controversial) characters in the party. Apparently, Lucke has managed to keep him out of the (official) Social Media spotlight. Gauland, Petry, and even Höcke all had their moments during the Eastern campaigns before they were overshadowed again by Lucke. But late in 2015, Petry – who began to play the anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant card then and also became quite cosy with Pegida – bounced back, eventually surpassing Lucke last month. I would love to know how these matters are actually decided at AfD HQ, and it will be interesting to see how the party’s media strategy plays out over the next weeks.

Analysing Facebook with R

I’ve recently discovered Rfacebook, which lets you access public information on Facebook from R. In terms of convenience, no package for R or Python that I have seen so far comes near. Get yourself a long-lived token, store it as a variable, and put all posts on a fanpage you are interested in into one R object with a single function call. Check it out here.

ECPR Joint Sessions Social Programme Taking Shape

With just two months to go until the 41st Joint Sessions of Workshops at Mainz, the local team is getting super-excited, if not slightly panicky. We have finally found funding for two drinks/finger-food receptions: a welcome bash at the university on Monday evening (5-7), and another reception on Wednesday night at Mainz City Hall following the Rokkan Lecture and price-giving ceremonies on Wednesday night. Would you please put this in your diaries? We would hate to miss you!

As always, you can follow us on facebook, on twitter (hashtags #ecprjs2013 and #ecpr), on this blog, or simply via the conference website. If you know someone who is going to the conference yet is blissfully unaware of  this whole social media shebang, be a chap and pass on the word.

Guttenberg-Gate: When Politics and Science Collide

The story has now been picked up by just about every news outlet on the planet: A German law professor was supposed to review a monograph on European constitutional law for a learned journal. He soon discovered that various pages were not properly referenced, to says the least. The twist: This monograph is based on Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s PhD thesis. And that man happens to be the German defence minister. The review has not yet been published, but the proofs have been leaked. From what you can read there, you would think that the minister cannot have been in his right mind.

While this is a scientific debate, the internet has of course exploded. I’m not sure how far we can trust the wisdom of the crowd, but it would seem that even the introduction bears an uncanny resemblance with some old editorials and even an essay by an anonymous student, all readily available online. That looks very bad.

But do normal people care? How can you explain that copying text verbatim is very bad while copying text verbatim and adding a name, a year and a page is absolutely ok? How can you explain that rephrasing someone else’s ideas and adding a name, year and page is even better?

Another, not totally unrelated question: If the rules of academia are so opaque to normal people, why is so much social status attached to a doctorate? Why should people who have no ambition to do research (inside or outside academia) strive for a higher degree?

At any rate, zu Guttenberg has done a lot of harm to German science: too many of us have already wasted too much of our time, er, researching the affair on facebook and twitter instead of producing stuff that could at least potentially be plagiarised.

Guttenberg-Gate: When Politics and Science Collide 5