REPORT:Online politics in 2023

EFOR has launched two analysis reports, which illustrate how money was spent on political and electoral advertising between 2019 and 2023, via Facebook and Google, as well as what were the main themes circulated by political parties and politicians in the last year.

 

The main conclusions 

  • The popularity list of official party pages does not correspond to their popularity list in polls: USR had 1.3 million interactions in 2023, AUR had 1.2 million interactions, compared to the traditional parties PSD with 368 136 and PNL 339 530. (interactions = number of total shares, likes and comments).
  • In the top of online politicians we find George Simion, both on Facebook with 1.3 million followers and on TikTok with 399,000 followers and 5.7 million content likes. The most popular content posted is manifesto type, party content (caravan, the golden schoolbag) and personal content. Videos are what bring it immense popularity with 54 million total views on Facebook alone in 2023.
  • PSD politicians Marcel Ciolacu and Gabriela Firea enter the top 10 political pages. While Gabriela Firea’s content is almost exclusively of a personal, family type, following her dismissal from the position of minister, Marcel Ciolacu assumes clear positions in 2023. Most of the popular posts are about electoral measures considered essential by the party, such as a ban on flour containing insects, the welfare of SMEs and tougher drink-driving laws. At the same time, the PSD official page has anti-Nicușor Dan (the mayor of Bucharest) content and posts promoting the need to clarify the Bîstroe channel scandal manufactured by its own minister, Sorin Grindeanu.
  • The normalization of disinformation as an online political promotion tactic has moved out of the purview of extremist parties and into the mainstream. The grain scandal in Ukraine, the Bîstroe scandal were greedily taken over by some politicians to increase their visibility, without remorse related to the impact on the perception of Romanians and the social tensions created.
  • In the top of the popular pages, we also find the USR official page and the page of Cătălin Drulă. The online content of the party that reached the top was the one related to the situation of special pensions in Romania and illegal cutting of forests. On the other hand, the leader’s page had 1.2 million total interactions (likes, comments, shares) and 21.2 million video views on Facebook, with a 12% increase in followers, promoting mostly the same content as the USR page.
  • Top narratives in the disinformation sphere have centered around radical, often anti-EU and anti-American discourse. In the top of the popularity of this type of content we have Luis Lazarus TV, George Simion, Claudiu Târziu, Cristian Terheș, Diana Șoșoacă and Ana Maria Gavrilă. The messages sent on the AUR channels related to the EU have a much more vague language. There is a moderation in tone as the party rose in the polls and tried to form partnerships with other sovereignist political formations in Europe. Extreme radicalism as a communication style somehow remains the prerogative of newcomers (SOS) and independent influencers, for example Cristian Terheș. The MEP has an audience of 408,000 followers and 1.9 million interactions with his Facebook page. The most popular content is with shocking titles such as: “Exhibition of naked men in the European Parliament”, “See live how the European Digital Identity (eID) is introduced through a non-transparent vote to verify age on the Internet”.
  • The lack of diversity of topics and prioritisation of key issues for society by a media that has been worryingly bought by contracts paid for by political subsidies is not helping at all. Voices warning of the temptation of radicalisation are poorly funded and echo in bubbles already aware of these dangers.

The project is supported by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), through the Research Fund, launched to support the IFES Online Campaigning Transparency Community of Practice (CoP). The Fund aims to encourage innovation by supporting the replication of successful practices and the development of new approaches that will increase transparency and accountability in online campaigning for democratic actors. Read more about the project here .