French voters were insulated from the far right’s election meddling because they prefer to share high-quality information. And by the fact they speak French
There’s an ancient adage about new communications technologies that says we tend to overestimate their short-term impact while underestimating their long-term effects. For years, we wondered how the internet would affect democratic politics and accordingly focused on its short-term impacts. In 2003, Howard Dean showed that the network made fundraising easier for insurgent candidates. In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama showed that the internet could be used not just for fundraising but also for establishing a political “brand”, mobilising canvassing support on the ground and using social media to get consistent messages out to millions of voters. Studies by scholars such as Helen Margetts showed that the technology could lower the “transaction costs” of political action, making it easier for citizens to register their support for particular causes and co-ordinate responses to events. And so on.
But, in a way, these were obvious uses of the technology. It was only in 2016 that we began to glimpse its longer-term impacts. Twitter, for example, enabled Donald Trump not only to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional media to speak directly to his followers, but also to dictate the news agenda of said media.