Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

Oxford study raises alarm on 'junk' news in France

  • The Oxford Internet Institute is a branch of the UK's prestigious Oxford Univeristy (Photo: Matthew and Heather)

Fake news is playing a massive role on Twitter in the run-up to French and German elections, a British study has said amid concerns on Russian meddling.

The study, by the Oxford Internet Institute, part of Oxford University in the UK, out on Friday (21 April), said that one in four political news stories being circulated by Twitter users in France in the run-up to Sunday’s presidential election were deliberately false or “junk” articles that voiced “ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan or conspiratorial" points of view.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • One in four tweets shared "extreme, hyper-partisan or conspiratorial" stories (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

It said that the run-up to German presidential elections in February “found Germans sharing four professionally produced news stories for every one piece of junk”.

It noted that the problem was less acute than in the US elections, where junk news, for instance in the state of Michigan, at times accounted for one out of every two links shared.

It also said that the bulk of France’s junk traffic targeted Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, pro-EU, and Russia-critical candidate, but that “highly automated accounts” also circulated large amounts of traffic about Francois Fillon, a centre-right and Russia-friendly contender.

The Oxford study comes hot on the heels of a similar one by Bakamo, a private-sector internet research firm based in the UK.

Bakamo said on Wednesday that 19.2 percent of links shared by users of social media in France in the past six months pertained to articles that did not “adhere to journalistic standards” and that expressed “radical opinions … to craft a disruptive narrative”.

It said a further 5 percent related to “narratives [that were] often mythical, almost theological in nature” or discussed “conspiracy theories”.

The bogus news mostly favoured anti-EU or pro-Russia candidates, including also far-right leader Marine Le Pen, radical left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, the self-described "Frexit" candidate Francois Asselineau, and Trotskyist candidate Philippe Poutou.

It said one in five of the “disruptive” stories had been influenced by Russian media and that one in two of the “conspiracy” articles bore Russian fingerprints.

Two of the Russian state’s biggest disinformation outlets, RT and Sputnik, both have dedicated French-language services.

Research by the Atlantic Council, a US-based think tank, out this week said that “much” of RT France’s coverage was “adequately balanced”.

“[RT France] has tended to report criticism of Macron, but at least mentioned the candidate’s own stance, albeit often briefly”, it said.

But it said Sputnik France showed a “distinct bias” against Macron and in support of Le Pen and Fillon.

It claimed, for instance, in five articles in February and March that French broadcaster BFMTV had given more airtime to Macron, whom it dubbed the mainstream media’s “darling”, than to rivals, even though the French media regulator, the CSA, said this was not true.

It also claimed in a series of articles in March that polls were predicting a Fillon victory even though most polls were not.

It based the reports on figures published by Brand Analytics, a Moscow-based firm, whose methodology was said to be unrepresentative by another French regulator, the Commission des Sondages.

The Atlantic Council said in an earlier report that RT France and Sputnik France had just 102,000 Twitter followers compared to mainstream media, such as the AFP news agency, which had 2.6 million.

It said their users were much more active, at almost 5 tweets per follower in a sample period compared to 1.5 tweets per follower of other media, and had a “strong political bias” that was broadly pro-Russia and anti-Macron.

It also said Sputnik France’s output was being circulated by automated “bots”, or Twitter accounts that gave no personal information on the user and that tweeted more than 100 times per day.

It said almost one in three (28%) of Sputnik France followers were of this type.

It also said the most prolific bots RT France or Sputnik France bots, such as @RTenfrancais or @heelleclech, were tweeting or retweeting content an average of 392 to 777 times each day.

A German translation of this article may be found here.

Investigation

Sex and lies: Russia's EU news

France and Germany have been targeted for years with fake news and lies designed to incite sexual revulsion toward migrants and the politicians who gave them shelter.

Interview

Khodorkovsky: Putin's betting on Le Pen

Russia will try to help Le Pen win the French election the same way it helped Trump in the US, Khodorkovsky, a Kremlin critic, has said.

News in Brief

  1. No UK election before Brexit, says May
  2. Former French PM wants to be mayor of Barcelona
  3. Merkel's wingman in surprise defeat in internal party vote
  4. Orban sends thank-you letters to supportive MEPs
  5. UN chief: World suffering from 'trust deficit disorder'
  6. Stalemate in Sweden as parliament ousts prime minister
  7. Migrant rescue ship heading to French port
  8. EU angry at British tabloids on Brexit

Opinion

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

EUobserved

How radical is Italy's Savona really?

Italy is in a political crisis because president Sergio Mattarella has rejected Paolo Savona as a cabinet member, for his views on the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. World upside down as EU and Russia unite against US
  2. EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses
  3. Russian with Malta passport in money-laundering probe
  4. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?
  5. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  6. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  7. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  8. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us