Leading up to the May 6 runoff election and the victory of Nicolas Sarkozy, candidates used the Internet to rally supporters while voters went online to find alternatives to the traditional media. In France, 2007 will probably b

e remembered as the first presidential elections were Internet was a major venue both for the 12 candidates in the first round of voting as well as for their political supporters and opponents. “In 2002, there was a lot of talk about it, but there was no strategy and little action,” said Philippe Crouzillacq, a reporter for the French high-tech news site 01net who followed the campaign on the Internet. “The main French parties sent people to the U.S. during the 2004 presidential elections to observe how Internet was used.” The defeated Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal, was probably the earliest candidate to establish a presence online with her blog Désirs d’avenir on which she encouraged the French to express their views. According to Vincent Feltesse, one of the Socialist Party strategists on the Internet, Royal said that “50% of the campaign would play out on the Internet.” The Socialist Party site itself was revamped to include Web 2.0 features such as Dailymotion video (Dailymotion is a French YouTube-like site), Flickr photos, and wordpress blogs. The UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, also encouraged the vast majority of its 300,000 members who are Internet users to start their own free blogs to support their candidate. “I think that Internet is a source of saving rather than spending. For example, when Nicolas Sarkozy was elected as the president of the UMP, the vote was done exclusively online,” declared Thierry Solere, one the UMP officials in charge of Internet, at the onset of the campaign. Indeed, the Internet remained a small piece of the pie in terms of campaign spending. “The UMP was spending 10,000 euros [13,500 dollars] a month to buy keywords until a ruling put a stop to that practice. It is a lot on the Internet, but not for a presidential campaign,” said Crouzillacq. A new forum, less control “Internet became a place to express political discourse that could not happen on TV. For example, one could listen to a 3-hour interview with François Bayrou [the candidate who came in third in the first round of voting]. His campaign made the most of Internet with very little means,” said Crouzillacq. Smaller parties engaged in the presidential campaign on the Internet with varying degrees of success. The Green Party led by Dominique Voynet chose a playful approach. “The political culture of each party was transferred to the Internet. The far-right and far-left parties created sites that were less open to commentary by Internet users,” explained Crouzillacq. Internet generated a few uproars during the campaign. When Ségolène Royal was captured on camera making comments hostile to teachers, traditionally sympathetic to Socialist candidates, the video was viewed by more than 100,000 people in less than a week. A French political journalist was suspended from the airwaves after a video in which he stated his support for one of the candidates was widely circulated on the Internet. Yet it remains difficult to measure the impact these incidents, and others which would not have become as widely known without the Internet, had on voters. “Anti-Sarkozy sites flourished on the Internet, but it was the only place. The major media, those who shape opinion and are owned by friends of Mr. Sarkozy, were literally engaged in propaganda. These sites remained reserved to small circles,” wrote Nathalie, a Parisian voter, on the Internet. On another note, voters in 82 towns had their first encounter with electronic machines during the presidential elections. For their first massive use, the machines failed to convince with long lines, confused users and some technical problems. The French are not done with voting. They will be back in the voting booth on June 10 and June 17 to elect their new representatives to the National assembly. No doubt, campaigns will quickly organize on the Web.   Isabelle Boucq for Atelier