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Foreign Actors Seek to Influence France’s Information Space Ahead of French Presidential Elections

March 3rd, 2022 08:33

The Alliance for Secur­ing Democ­ra­cy, a US think tank, report­ed last month that Russ­ian and Chi­nese efforts to influ­ence France’s infor­ma­tion space ahead of the April pres­i­den­tial elec­tion are now in full swing. Accord­ing to their  report:

Feb­ru­ary 16, 2022 As France gears up for a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in April, sev­er­al for­eign offi­cials and state-spon­sored media are pro­mot­ing nar­ra­tives in France’s pub­lic debate that are con­ducive to their for­eign inter­ests, some­times to the detri­ment of French democ­ra­cy. Since Octo­ber 2021, the Alliance for Secur­ing Democ­ra­cy has mon­i­tored the French-lan­guage social media accounts of media out­lets run by author­i­tar­i­an states like Rus­sia and Chi­na, as well as oth­er for­eign state-backed media. Five main find­ings came out of this mon­i­tor­ing exercise. […]

Over the past two months, the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of the most viewed, shared, and engaged-with con­tent pro­duced by Russia’s French-lan­guage state media out­lets has focused on anti-vac­cine and anti-pub­lic health mes­sages. […] Russia’s French lan­guage state media have pro­vid­ed more cov­er­age of Ukraine than French domes­tic media out­lets. […] RT France’s influ­ence in France is sig­nif­i­cant vis-à-vis oth­er for­eign state-fund­ed out­lets, yet it pales in com­par­i­son to RT Deutsch’s influ­ence in Ger­many. […] For all the fears that Chi­na is emu­lat­ing the Kremlin’s infor­ma­tion manip­u­la­tion play­book, Beijing’s efforts in France show that it still lags far behind Moscow in this domain. Where­as Russ­ian state media seek to build an all-encom­pass­ing alter­na­tive world­view for its view­ers, Chi­nese diplo­mats and state media main­ly seek to shape French per­cep­tions on rel­a­tive­ly nar­row issues like Xin­jiang, Tai­wan, and pandas.

Read the full report here.

The report con­cludes that Rus­sia and Chi­na, along with a dis­parate group of oth­er inter­est­ed coun­tries, have embed­ded their state media in the French land­scape with vary­ing lev­els of suc­cess and are using those out­lets to pro­mote their inter­ests and world­view. While these efforts won’t deter­mine the out­come, they do play a role in shap­ing vot­ers’ perceptions.

This is not the first time for­eign pow­ers have tried to influ­ence French pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Dur­ing the 2017 elec­tions, there was a coor­di­nat­ed attempt to under­mine Emmanuel Macron’s can­di­da­cy, with a Rus­sia-linked dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign of fake news spread by fake accounts and hack­ing and leak­ing of giga­bytes of stolen data. There are no indi­ca­tions that Rus­sia has con­duct­ed a sim­i­lar dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign direct­ed against Macron (or in sup­port of any oth­er politi­cian) in this year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. How­ev­er, the French approach toward Rus­sia has always been a large part of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine has forced all can­di­dates to clar­i­fy their posi­tions on Rus­sia. Accord­ing to a recent report by the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions, the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates most sup­port­ive of Rus­sia are far-right fig­ures Eric Zem­mour and Marine Le Pen, whose grand­daugh­ter par­tic­i­pat­ed in a recent Nation­al Con­ser­vatism con­fer­ence, the sub­ject of a recent Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) report on Russ­ian influ­ence. How­ev­er, giv­en the clo­sures and oth­er actions direct­ed against Russ­ian-backed media out­lets in the west, how Russ­ian influ­ence strate­gies will devel­op in the future remains to be seen.

The GIOR has exten­sive­ly cov­ered French efforts to counter for­eign influ­ence oper­a­tions. In Novem­ber, we report­ed that the French gov­ern­ment set up an office to counter for­eign media manip­u­la­tion ahead of the 2022 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. We have also high­light­ed the role of lob­by groups such as the France Chi­na Foun­da­tion used by Chi­na to fos­ter elites sym­pa­thet­ic to the CCP and the role of far-right French politi­cians act­ing as pro-Russ­ian polit­i­cal forces in France.