Fans flock to French comic Dieudonne on social media
Moves in France to stop performances by the controversial comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala have been accompanied by a surge of interest in him on social media platforms.
Over the past two weeks, the number of the comic's followers on Twitter has more than doubled to over 75,000 and his Facebook "likes" have gone up by more than 100,000 to exceed half a million.
However, there are mixed feelings about Dieudonne - who has a string of convictions for hate speech - in the burgeoning French Twitter conversation.
On 27 December, Interior Minister Manuel Valls condemned recent "racist and anti-Semitic remarks" by Dieudonne about the broadcast journalist Patrick Cohen and announced moves to ban the comic's shows.
The minister encouraged local officials to bar the comic from performing, on public order grounds.
Dieudonne had a strong online presence even before the authorities decided to act: a website, dieudosphere.com, which is currently inaccessible after reportedly being hacked in mid-December, as well as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts and a network of supportive blogs and Facebook pages.
This "Dieudosphere", as it has been dubbed in France, has grown in size significantly since 27 December.
Dieudonne videos posted on two YouTube channels have attracted a total of nearly 50m views.
The "iamdieudo" channel was set up in March 2011 and has since accumulated more than 230,000 subscribers and a total of more than 41m views.
Only three videos have been put up on a second "iamdieudo2" channel. Posted over the last two weeks, they have already had more than 5m views.
Meanwhile, the "likes" on the comic's Facebook page have seen a gradual rise from about 250,000 six months ago to about 400,000 by the end of December. They have since shot up to more than half a million.
Almost three-quarters of the page's fans (73%) are based in France, followed by Belgium (5%) and Algeria (3%), according to socialbakers.com.
On Twitter, Dieudonne's current @MbalaDieudo handle only became active on 22 March last year. By the time of Mr Valls's intervention at the end of December, the number of his followers had surpassed 30,000. In the two weeks since, it has ballooned to more than 75,000.
The background image on the comic's Twitter page shows him making his trademark controversial "quenelle" gesture. Described by critics as an inverted Nazi salute, many photos of fans performing it have been posted on the web.
"Thank you for your support!!! We are standing firm!!" said a tweet posted on Dieudonne's account on 10 January, after a court upheld a ban on the opening show of his planned tour. It was retweeted hundreds of times within half an hour.
Observers believe that Dieudonne's online fans have diverse backgrounds, ranging from far-right supporters to fundamentalist Muslims. According to political scientist Jean-Yves Camus, quoted in the daily Le Figaro, they also include "confused young people who have lost any sense of human values".
But it is not all plain sailing for Dieudonne on social media.
Another French comedian, Stephane Guillon, has a much broader Twitter support base than the controversial comic.
In an opinion piece for the daily Liberation, he writes that Dieudonne "has been trying to pass off his anti-Semitism as humour for the last 20 years". The tweet in which he publicised his article to his more than 500,000 followers on 6 January has been retweeted more than 6,000 times.
More generally, French tweets between 6 and 8 January containing the word "Dieudonne" convey mainly negative views about the comic. At the same time, many express opposition to a ban on his shows, according to Crimson Hexagon's ForSight social media analysis tool.
Many tweets also suggest that the authorities are paying too much attention to the comic. "The government seems to be working harder to bring down the number of Dieudonne's shows than to bring down unemployment," reads a widely shared tweet.