May 18. 2024. 4:33

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France ‘pounded’ by Russian disinformation, French EU minister warns


Barrot said that online disinformation campaigns were hitting France every week, so the risk of an unfair outcome to the EU elections had to be taken seriously.

“We are being pounded by propaganda from Vladimir Putin’s Russia”, he said, noting that it is there to “disrupt public debate and interfere in the campaign for the European elections”.

Several incidents have made national headlines in recent weeks. The Ministry of the Armed Forces was hijacked, and a – fake – announcement was published on the front page calling for 200,000 men to be sent to Ukraine to fight. Rumours have also circulated that the rate of tuberculosis infections has risen as France has taken in Ukrainian soldiers as refugees.

In February, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said that diplomatic services had discovered a vast Russian propaganda network known as ‘Portal Kombat’, which was spreading pro-Russian and anti-Ukraine information in France, Germany and Poland.

The network of 193 websites “clearly constitutes a campaign to manipulate information on digital platforms, involving foreign actors, and that this campaign is aimed at harming France and its interests,” a Foreign Ministry press release said at the time.

The lead Socialist candidate in the European elections, Raphaël Glucksmann, also announced last week that he was the victim of a pro-Chinese disinformation campaign.

However, the threat of disinformation being spread just weeks before the EU elections could also be a problem for other EU countries.

In April, the Czech government announced that it had shut down the pro-Russian Voice of Europe website, which is funded by Putin’s close ally Viktor Medvedchuk. Some MEPs were allegedly paid to take part in videos and debates organised by the website.

Barrot also pointed to the impact disinformation campaigns can have in the run-up to elections, noting that in “the 48 hours before” the Slovak national elections, “a false audio recording was circulated on social networks, implicating one of the candidates in a vote-rigging operation. That candidate lost.”.

Former Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also told Euractiv in an interview that Russian influence and disinformation is”active” across all political groups in the European Parliament.

France is the first country in Europe to have created a body specialised in detecting foreign digital attacks, VIGINUM.

On 11 March, the digital rights watchdog CNIL announced that it was reactivating its ‘electoral observatory’ ahead of the June vote.

(Theo Bourgery-Gonse | Euractiv.fr)

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