Die Partei: satirical German party gains ground on social media

Die Partei campaign poster

A German political party that promises to legalise drink driving, introduce cocaine on prescription and kidnap Turkey’s president is winning the social media race ahead of Germany’s federal election, an analysis of Facebook data shows.

Die Partei (“The Party”), founded in 2004 by editors of satire magazine Titanic, has in the month leading up to this Sunday’s vote gathered more new fans on the social network than any other German political party, including the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

Overall, and like other populist parties around Europe, AfD vastly outperforms traditional parties on social media. In August, for example, it achieved 440,000 interactions on Facebook – three times as many as leftwing Die Linke and six times as many as Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU, which is leading in the polls.

Satirical group Die Partei however, led this year by Istanbul-born standup comedian Serdar Somuncu, has grown faster online than any other party, gathering 31,608 new fans compared with the AfD’s 29,302.

In one attention-grabbing stunt, Die Partei’s “propaganda minister”, Israeli-born satirist Shahak Shapira, hijacked 31 AfD-friendly Facebook groups in order to “repair the internet”. In another, the satirical party uploaded its campaign ad to YouPorn.

In its manifesto, Die Partei vows to introduce a system whereby votes in national referendums will be annulled if voters cannot answer simple questions such as “what is the capital of Paris?” – a system it describes as a “moderate epistocracy”.

Looking at the data, it is astonishing how the AfD and Die Partei lead the pack”, said Tilo Kmieckowiak of Quintly, a software firm that provides the social media analysis tool used to compile the data. “It seems like scandalous political outings and provocative humour generate the highest levels of attention. Their data also suggests that there is much room for the other parties to up the ante.”

Even though Die Partei will almost certainly fail to cross the 5% vote-share threshold for seats in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, its attention-grabbing social media campaign has made the group the subject of heated debate. Its fans suggest established parties could learn from its inventive techniques, while critics dismiss the party as “elitist, bourgeois and amoral”.

Stefan Niggemeier, a journalist, has argued that any vote for Die Partei, which entered the European parliament in 2014, was a vote wasted from stopping the AfD’s march into the Bundestag.

The AfD has engaged the services of Texas-based Harris Media, which has worked on online campaigns for Donald Trump and Ukip. However, the extent to which social media will have an impact on Sunday’s vote in Germany remains subject to debate.

Levels of trust in traditional media remains higher in Germany than in other parts of Europe (pdf), and fewer young people use online platforms like Facebook as their only source for news.

“Despite increased media attention and isolated viral phenomena such as the ‘Schulz train’ or the hype around the young leader of the Free Democrats, Christian Lindner, social networks still play a comparatively small role in political communication in Germany, even during the election campaign,” said Paul-Jasper Dittrich, a researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute in Berlin.

As in the rest of the EU, Dittrich said, populist parties like the AfD used social networks, especially Facebook, as a main tool of their communication strategy. “However, compared to other European populists like Marine Le Pen, Beppe Grillo or Jean-Luc Mélenchon who all have more than 1 million followers on Facebook, [AfD chair] Frauke Petry’s 220,000 followers look paltry,” he said.

While the AfD may overall beat off competition from its satirical challengers, its membership numbers remain considerably lower than that of all other leading parties in Germany. According to its press office, the AfD had 29,000 paying members at the start of September, while Die Partei has about 25,000.