Wednesday

8th Dec 2021

Russia-linked fake news floods French social media

  • Wi-Fi zone outside Pompidou centre in France (Photo: Alessio Milan)

Almost one in four of the internet links shared by French users of social media in the run-up to elections were related to fake news, much of which favoured anti-EU candidates and showed traces of Russian influence, according to a new study.

The survey, by a UK-based firm, Bakamo, published on Wednesday (19 April), looked at 800 websites and almost 8 million links shared between 1 November and 4 April.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Of the links, 19.2 percent related to media that did not “adhere to journalistic standards” and that expressed “radical opinions … to craft a disruptive narrative” in what the study called the “reframe” category.

A further 5 percent of links related to “narratives [that were] often mythical, almost theological in nature” or discussed “conspiracy theories” in what the study called the “alternative” section.

The sources shared in these categories favoured anti-EU candidates both on the far right and the far left: Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Francois Asselineau, and Philippe Poutou.

They also favoured Francois Fillon, a centre-right candidate who is friendly toward Russia.

Bakamo’s research found that one in five sources in the reframe section were influenced by Russian state media known for spreading anti-EU disinformation, such as RT or Sputnik, and that one out of two sources in the alternative section had Russian roots.

“The analysis only identified foreign influence connected with Russia. No other foreign source of influence was detected”, Bakamo said.

The study said that “established sources of political news” were “still driving public discourse” and were “being shared in greater proportion than all other non-traditional media sources”.

They also noted that while the far-left candidate Melenchon’s campaign team often shared bogus material, Le Pen’s team mostly propagated its own content on sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

But it added that social media users in the reframe category were “very prolific” and “very engaged”, sharing links almost twice as many times as those who followed mainstream sources.

Pierre Haski, a French journalist who took part in the research, noted that there was another “worrying trend as election day nears”.

He said there was a “growing gap among citizens” based on “news reliability and respect for professional and ethical [journalistic] rules” rather than on political affiliation.

The gap meant that people increasingly did not agree on basic facts as opposed to political opinions and that those who no longer trusted traditional media were impervious to debunking efforts, such as Les Decodeurs, a group of fact-checkers working with Le Monde, a French newspaper of record.

Bakamo’s study said the main political themes in the reframe category were those that championed French identity and attacked Islam.

Minor themes also attacked globalisation, big corporations, and US or EU “imperialism”.

It said the influence of Russian sources was the strongest in the French identity, anti-Islam, and anti-globalisation areas, as well as in the areas of “confusion” and “conspiratorial/anti-system” sources shared in the alternative segment.

A French translation of this article may be found here.

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. Russia to lose Swift access, pipeline if it invades Ukraine
  2. EU urban population exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution
  3. Record rise in UK alcohol deaths during Covid
  4. EU agencies back 'mix-and-match' vaccine approach
  5. Slovak centre-right MEP joins Renew
  6. Suspected hitman in Khashoggi murder arrested in Paris
  7. EU agrees to sanction Russian mercenaries
  8. Germany asks Iran for realistic nuclear proposals

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Latest News

  1. EU to announce new mandatory rules on child sexual content
  2. WHO warns mandatory vaccination 'absolute last resort'
  3. EU ministers shoot down updated corporate tax rules
  4. EU now open to VAT exemptions for green products
  5. Why was central Europe open to China's Covid disinformation?
  6. Could north Cyprus unilaterally join euro to escape Turkey's lira?
  7. Germany's new government – what's in it for Europe?
  8. Denmark and Hungary oppose EU rules on minimum wages

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us