The day after a wave of violence last weekend left Paris cleaning up burnt cars and broken glass in posh districts, protesters from the grassroots Yellow Vests movement quickly convened to debrief and define future tactics. Their venue: a Facebook group run by 31-year-old Maxime Nicolle. Posting with the alias “Fly Rider,” he’s become an Internet star in just a couple of weeks and risen as a prominent face of the French strikes.
Nicolle is one of several online activists giving French President Emmanuel Macron cold sweats: with more than 120,000 members, his Facebook group aims to help coordinate and organise actions, as well as canalise what protesters want. It’s home to posts about everything from injured protesters to what to wear to avoid tear gas.
Rise to fame
France is the latest place where platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but also messaging software like Whatsapp and Telegram, are being used by protesters to organise and coordinate. It’s raised questions about the nobodies who become leaders online practically overnight, in a quick rise to fame and influence.
“There’s a handful of people who have managed to monopolise the floor online —unknowns who have become top influencers,” said Benedicte Martan, head of studies at social media analysis firm Visibrain. “Social media has given rise to poster boys for rebellion, and they’ve beat politicians to the top of the influencer ranking.”