For more than a month, dozens of Facebook groups have emerged around the infectious disease specialist. They bring together several hundred thousand Internet users around political themes broader than the health crisis.
Tuesday April 28, 2:12 p.m. The Marseille Infectious Disease Institute (IHU) YouTube account publishes a new video: “Update on the epidemic: are we really risking a second wave?” Dressed in his usual white blouse, Professor Didier Raoult, seated at his desk, rubs his chin while listening to the introductory question. Then he launched into 21 minutes of explanations, handling with ease the figures and graphs relating to the evolution of the epidemic.
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Without waiting, at 2:13 p.m., the alert is given on Facebook. “The last video of Pr Raoult !!”, publishes a member of the group “Didier Raoult Vs Coronavirus”. An hour later, the same video is shared in another group, “Support for Professor Raoult”. She appears a little later in a third circle of Facebook, “World Coalition in Support of Doctor Didier Raoult”. Each time, the effect is the same. The “cheers”, “thank you very much professor” pile up in countless comments. And the likes rain under re-shared content thousands of times.
Didier Raoult, therefore. His scientific demonstrations, his long hair, his skull ring, his sprawl and … his worshipers on Facebook. In a few weeks, the one who had opened a debate on the use of the association hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat patients affected by Covid-19, became a viral phenomenon. Franceinfo sought to analyze it.
We have identified 35 groups or Facebook pages where the character is made a hero. The majority of the virtual circles bearing his image were created between March 21 and March 27. And more than a month after their launch, they have an audience exceeding one million people. Over the weeks, some groups have grown more than others. Five of them thus exceeded 25,000 members. The largest brings together more than 475,000 participants, more or less active.
While most of these groups were born just over a month ago, others have existed for a longer time under other names, unrelated to the subject. They are called “The corner of good deals” or “Yellow citizens”, and were able to take advantage of the pro-Raoult movement to redirect their focus and gain an audience.
After a peak of publications when they were created, these platforms have found their cruising speed: in the five main groups, the number of daily publications remains around 2,000 posts per day. There is nevertheless a sharp reduction in publications from April 20 to 24, and for which two hypotheses emerge: stronger moderation on the part of administrators or Facebook. Or a drop in participation in these groups. So much for the formal data.
On form, all these pages obviously have one thing in common: Raoult is everywhere. Her face lines the cover bands, the group presentation photos, and even the thumbnails of the profiles of certain members. He has become an almost mystical, Christlike figure, to whom we worship. The exalted descriptions read in certain groups confirm it: “Didier Raoult is the only researcher in the world who has a track to save us”, write the administrators of the largest listed group. “Let’s give it a hand by creating a chain of hope,” write others, almost forgetting to respect barrier gestures.
On record records, the most popular message among the five most popular Facebook groups is an April 9 post calling for the professor’s support, “even if our government doesn’t listen to it.” Another, widely shared, also serves as a rallying message behind Didier Raoult against his detractors.
Olivier Ertzscheid, researcher in information sciences at the University of Nantes, analyzes their success: “This kind of message, neutral in terms of information, is only intended to produce a feeling of belonging. It is part of a pulsating over-solicitation on which Facebook engineering is built, and which installs us in a social recognition. “
These groups also praise Raoult’s scientific legitimacy. We celebrate his career there, the distinctions he received for his research, as well as the “Raoult protocol”; “obvious” solution to overcome this health crisis. The links most often published are a petition for the use of chloroquine, and a video from the INA dating from 2006, where the scientist from Marseille warned of the potential consequences of an epidemic to come.
Conversely, if reviews appear here and there over the posts, they meet little response. As an example, Mediapart’s investigation into Raoult’s past, highlighting “biased scientific results and opaque funding”, is only shared a dozen times.
Over time, the subjects of discussion have taken an increasingly political form and there has been less discussion of chloroquine or scientific studies. When, on April 10, Didier Raoult published on Twitter new results from his study, only certain groups experience a slight spike in new publications. Likewise, when the professor is interviewed by Paris Match or by BFMTV, on April 30, the thrill remains slight in these communities.
The comments are now more focused on the management of the crisis by the government. The texts accompanying the 99,000 posts made in these five groups very often include words like “Minister” or “Macron”.
In fact, criticism of the executive occupies an important place. For example, on April 4, a surfer posted a message to the attention of the President of the Republic, denouncing the lack of equipment and accompanied by a photo showing a nurse’s middle finger raised in front of the camera. The message – copied and shared elsewhere as well – collect 30,000 likes here and 53,000 shares. A substantial commitment.
A political mobilization which is explained by a great porosity between these Facebook pages and other pre-existing groups, already focused on the fight against the power in place. Thus, a group created on March 13 was first called “SOS coronavirus France”, before being renamed “Coronavirus vs Didier Raoult (without censorship)” on March 29. He then changed his name again to “Bas les masques” a month later, with an editorial line of anger and an appeal for civil disobedience.
“The most highlighted content is that which plays on a feeling of insecurity, injustice, anger. Instead of producing emancipation effects, building an alternative discourse, the debate will get bogged down”, analyzes researcher Olivier Ertzscheid, for whom this highlighting of emotional content corresponds to the DNA of the functioning of Facebook.
By examining these pro-Raoult groups, we can see proximity with the groups of “yellow vests”, for which Facebook had also played an essential role in collective mobilization. A circle to the glory of the Marseille scientist, who in the past called himself “Yellow citizens”, is thus administered by the same people as those on the page “Support for Citizens Yellow Vests”.
In mirror, many articles supporting the professor and the utility of chloroquine are also published in groups always dedicated to the “yellow vests”. This is the case with the interview with actress Mylène Demongeot in Noon Free, telling how she was diagnosed with Covid-19 and treated according to the protocol defended by Raoult. “Chloroquine saved me,” headlined the regional daily on April 22. The article, massively shared in pro-Raoult groups, is also on “La France en anger”, the main group of “yellow vests” still in activity, or in “For the resignation of Emmanuel Macron”.
This parallel is not surprising, explains Olivier Ertzscheid, even if the starting themes were not the same. “In the same way that the ‘yellow vests’ groups have gathered around a few figures, the Raoult community has chosen an iconic, central figure, he deciphers. Less event Saturdays. ”