French campaign under intense international pressures

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Terrorist threats by ISIS, fake news spreading from the United States and massive investments into extreme-right francophone media: the French presidential campaign unfolded under a lot of international pressure. EURACTIV France reports.

The security level was already elevated but extra measures have been taken at the eleventh hour to safeguard the presidential election to an even greater extent.

ISIS issued direct threats about Emmanuel Macron, raising the stakes for the security services, explained Charles Brisard, of the terrorism analysis centre. He tweeted: “In the last issue of its magazine #Rumiyah, ISIS calls for terrorist attacks on the day of the second round of the election, on 7th May.”

Emmanuel Macron’s Paris HQ should have been open to the press but has been closed and the whole street has been subjected to strict security measures. In the morning, the Louvre’s press centre was also evacuated.

These threats add up to a campaign marked by international interference, direct or not, the latest one being the hacking of data from Macron’s En Marche party, on the evening of May 5th. The information has largely been broadcasted by French and American rightwing media outlets. The hacking itself seems to have involved Russian speakers.

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The phishing operation, retrieving passwords, is relatively easy and can be carried out from virtually anywhere. The broadcasting of the data is more easily tracked and has been accelerated by Russian and American networks.

Researcher Nicolas Vanderbiest has mapped the Twitter accounts that published what has since been dubbed the #Macronleaks.

But the documents, leaked to disrupt the election, have been mostly rejected by the French press. Most of the outlets have indeed refused to sort them out only 24 hours before the vote. All electoral propaganda is indeed forbidden in France from midnight on the Friday before an election.

Jack Posobiec, a pro-Trump militant, the first to publish the leaks, visibly understood very little of the French text. Among other things, he claimed that Macron took out life insurance in March 2017, while it was in fact an insurance for the refunding of the campaign costs.

French language, a weak shield against fake news

The language barrier thus worked as a shield against fake news during the campaign, with a lesser impact in France than in the United States, for example. Last year, Hillary Clinton was indeed the target of an army of young Macedonians passing on wrong information in English.

The lies and fake news have however worked within groups of people less savvy in terms of social media, like the very young or the elderly.

Social media users associated with the French right, such as Sarkozy and Fillon supporters, have spent most of the campaign raging against Emmanuel Macron, whose name they ended up using more than that of their actual candidate. The same people fuelled the “Ridicule TV” account, that only showed anti-Macron clips.

Yet, the most blatant lies have been circulated by the Front National itself. The party fabricated fake tweets attributed to the Canard Enchainé newspaper. These fakes were not very convincing, featuring a star instead of a heart in the tweet, for example.

Twitter has been forced to urgently delete some accounts during the weekend, so as to prevent fake news circulation.

The Macron team is still undecided about the status of some Russian news sites, like Russia Today or Sputnik. It has nonetheless decided recently to ban them from their HQ and press rooms during the meetings.

Largely financed by the Russian government, these two sites have systematically touched upon all rumours concerning Emmanuel Macron, as well as publishing a heap of far-fetched stories, always showing the extreme-right in a favourable light. Some of these were as fanciful as the report which claimed a million Europeans had created an army against refugees.

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