Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Anti-Macron leaks try to sway French election

  • Leaks and the tweets discrediting Macron were released just as the official campaign for Sunday's election was closing, when candidates are banned from speaking until the end of the vote. (Photo: Reuters)

Thousands of documents on the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron were released online on Friday evening (5 May) in what appeared to be a last-minute effort to destabilise him ahead of Sunday's run-off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Macron's En Marche! (Marching forward) movement said in a statement that it had been "the victim of a massive and co-ordinated hacking that gave rise this evening to the diffusion on social networks of various internal information (emails, accounting documents, contracts …)”.

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  • WikiLeaks, the site founded by Julian Assange, had also published hacked documents to weaken Hillary Clinton. (Photo: acidpolly)

It said the documents posted on the internet, under the hashtags #MacronLeaks and #Macrongate, were "fake documents added to authentic documents in order to sow doubt and disinformation".

It said that the operation was "manifestly a destabilisation of democracy, as we saw it in the US during the last presidential campaign" and that the authors wanted to "harm the En Marche! movement a few hours before the second round".

Macron's campaign did not say who it thought was behind the operation.

The release of documents appears to have been well coordinated and followed the model of what US intelligence alleged was a Russian-led campaign last year against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump's opponent.

The documents seem to have been first posted in a file-sharing site and relayed by 4chan.org, an online message board.

The 4chan.org board was already used in recent weeks to create anti-Macron memes.

Earlier this week, it was also used to spread a fake story that Macron had hidden funds in the Bahamas.

Just hours later, on Wednesday evening, Le Pen hinted during a TV debate with Macron that information on the accounts would be "revealed in the coming days or weeks".

Friday's leaks were released by Wikileaks with the #MacronLeaks hashtag. It said the files contained "many tens of documents".

The whistleblower website created by Julian Assange added credit to the leaks by saying they were "a significant leak" in which it had "not yet discovered fakes" and that it was "not economically feasible to fabricate the whole".

During the US campaign, Wikileaks was used to release thousands of internal documents that had been hacked from Clinton's Democratic Party's networks.

According to Nicolas Vanderbiest, a Belgian expert who has been monitoring how fake news and rumours were spread on social media during the French campaign, the hashtag #Macrongate was first used by Jack Posobiec from The Rebel Media, a right-wing Canadian outlet.

Posobiec was also instrumental in spreading the rumours on Wednesday about accounts in the Bahamas.

Originating from Posobiec and Wikileaks, dozens of French and international pro-Russian and pro-Trump accounts tweeted about the leaks, Vanderbiest found. He also found that many of these accounts were used to spread the Bahamas rumour.

The leaks and the tweets were released just as the official campaign for Sunday's election was closing.

Starting from midnight on Friday until the end of the vote on Sunday evening, French law prevents candidates and their supporters from speaking publicly.

In a "recommendation to media" released during the night, the French electoral commission said that "the free expression of the voters' suffrage and the sincerity of the vote [were] at stake".

The commission asked media not to publish the content of the leak and reminded that propagation of fake news could be punished as a crime.

Macron's statement was released just before the speaking ban.

At the same time, the leaks were used by leaders of the National Front (FN), Le Pen's party.

In a tweet, the FN's number two and Le Pen's political strategist Florian Philippot asked if the leaks would reveal "things that investigative journalists have deliberately kept quiet about."

He said the alleged media silence was a "frightening democratic wreck".

Earlier in the day, Philippot, who is a also member of the European Parliament, had posted what looked like a smartphone screenshot in which an En Marche! section in Reims, in eastern France called on supporters to "kill" Le Pen.

In his tweet, he asked Macron for an explanation about the alleged message. But the screenshot was quickly debunked as a photomontage.

Philippot's tweets and Le Pen's announcement of the Bahamas story demonstrate that the far-right FN has not hesitated to use fake news, or unverified news, to campaign against and discredit Macron.

A probe was opened by prosecutors over the Bahamas story after Macron filed a complaint. He said on Thursday that Le Pen had "allies which are linked to Russian interests".

The last opinion polls published before the end of the campaign showed that Macron could beat Le Pen on Sunday by 61-63 percent against 37-39 percent.

Friday's operation may not swing the vote, but it could help Le Pen gain a better result, as well as weaken Macron at the start of his mandate and ahead of legislative elections in June.

In messages on Twitter, just before publishing the leaks, WikiLeaks said that they came "too late to shift the election".

Pro-Russia lobby divided on French vote

Influential members of the Franco-Russian Dialogue, a pro-Russia lobby group, do not agree whether Le Pen or Macron should become president.

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