French prosecutor to begin inquiry after Macron complains of ‘cyber misinformation campaign’
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Emmanuel Macron, the frontrunner in the French presidential election, has filed a complaint that fake news is being used to undermine his campaign and influence voting in the election.
Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, former banker, and founder of new party En Marche! (Forward!) is approximately 20 points ahead of his opponent, the far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen. He is widely expected to beat Ms Le Pen in the second round of voting this Sunday.
In Paris on Thursday, Mr Macron submitted a legal complaint over allegations that he held an offshore bank account in the Bahamas. The allegation was repeated by Ms Le Pen during a head-to-head debate televised earlier this week. Mr Macron has denied the allegations, which he described as “defamation”.
The allegations had circulated online on a right-wing US website, Disobedient Media, which attributed the claims to “leaked documents”. The original source of the claims remains unclear.
Mr Macron’s team said that he was the victim of a “cyber misinformation campaign”.
There have been reports that Mr Macon has been targeted by a covert Russian misinformation campaign, with similarities to those targeted towards Democratic Party figures in last year’s US Presidential Election.
Unsupported stories about Macron include that his campaign is being funded by Saudi Arabia and that he is acting in the financial interests of the US.
A study by the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute reported in April that fake news on social media, which voiced “ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan or conspiratorial” views would play a significant role in the French and German elections.
A further study, conducted by British consultancy Bakamo, agreed that fake news is widespread, although the mainstream media has begun to regain ground over fake news in the French presidential election.
The study – which looked at 10 million links to political news on social media – found that one in five links shared by social media users between 4-21 April was found to link to bogus content, compared with one in four in previous months.
30 per cent of the sources showed signs of Russian influence, the study reported.
Techniques used to spread disinformation included “cloaking” articles to make them appear as though they come from credible sources, reporting non-scientific polls, taking stories out of their 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,” the report said.
A new centre to combat online disinformation is being established in Finland to serve as a platform to pool international resources and expertise to combat the growth of fake news.