Sunday

18th Aug 2019

Russia-linked fake news 'lost influence' in France

  • Putin's military intelligence service, the GRU, tried to hack Macron's campaign, a recent study indicated (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Mainstream media have gained ground over bogus news, much of it emanating from Russia, in the run-up to the French vote on Sunday (7 May), a new study said.

One in five links shared by social media users was bogus content between 4 April and 21 April compared to one in four in previous months, the study, by Bakamo, a UK-based consultancy said on Wednesday.

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  • Macron is secretly gay, has shady offshore funds, and is funded by Saudi Arabia, Russia-influenced stories said (Photo: Reuters)

It predicted that sharing of bogus content would decline still further in the next few weeks.

It said 30 percent of the suspect material, accounting for 7 percent of the total content, showed traces of Russian “influence”.

But Pierre Haski, a French journalist who took part in Bakamo’s research, said Russian state “intentional meddling” was hard to disentangle from “like-minded publishers” who shared Russia’s views.

Jonathan Deitch, the Bakamo director, said: “Traditional news sources remain relevant and relied upon by social media users”.

He said sources that “challenge the validity of the traditional media” had “slightly less influence”, but he said that these sites and their readers “remain very active and show no signs of going away.”

Bakamo looked at almost 10 million links to political and elections news from 800 websites, including Russian state media RT France and Sputnik France, as well as “numerous other French-language Russian blogs”.

It said the main “disinformation techniques” were “cloaking articles as if they were published by legitimate sites, reporting nonscientific polls, pulling articles out of historical context, and simple hoaxes”.

“These methods exist alongside Russian narratives designed to attune French readers to messages that create sympathy for pro-Russian positions and the candidates who support them”, it said.

Bakamo’s new report came amid mounting evidence of foreign interference in the French election.

The Oxford Internet Institute, part of Oxford University in the UK, said one in four links shared in France during a sample week in March referenced “junk” articles and that many of these favoured pro-Russia candidates.

British and US activists from the “alt-right” movement, which is anti-EU and pro-Russian, tried to launch an online “war” against Emmanuel Macron, a leading pro-EU candidate, the Atlantic Council, a US think tank, reported.

It said Russian bots, some of which posted links over 750 times a day, were spreading anti-EU content.

Trend Micro, a Tokyo-based firm, also said in April that Russia’s GRU military intelligence service tried to hack Macron’s campaign team.

Bakamo’s report said on Wednesday that some bogus stories which alleged that Macron had offshore funds were originally posted on a message board on the Medipart.fr website, a normal French publisher, in order to give them a “cloak” of credibility.

Other bogus sites attacked Macron by saying that respected media, such as France’s satirical and investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine, had “censored” content on Macron’s secret funds.

Hoax websites, designed to look like mainstream media, such as Belgian newspaper Le Soir, also made unsubstantiated allegations that Macron was funded by Saudi Arabia.

Bakamo noted that Russian influence was the strongest (one in two links shared) in the most extreme fake news, such as conspiracy theories which alleged that a Zionist cabal was part of an anti-Russian plot.

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