European media reported earlier this month that French President Emmanuel Macron identified foreign “propaganda” media and online platforms as the main drivers behind the spread of disinformation in France. According to a Politico report:
January 11, 2021 PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says online platforms and foreign “propaganda” media are the main drivers behind the spread of disinformation in the country — and he wants to rein them in. “Online platforms, influencers, and also citizens who sometimes take a considerable place in the public debate precisely through these new platforms … must have a framework of responsibility that is yet to be built,” he said Tuesday during the annual new year speech before the country’s press corps. “The same must apply to foreign media authorized to broadcast on French soil,” the president added, in a clear allusion to Russian outlets such as Sputnik and RT.
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The Politico report notes that Macron’s remarks built on the conclusions of a government-commissioned study that pitches guidelines to fight against disinformation and conspiracy theories online. One chapter of the study, titled “Les Lumières à l’ère numérique” (Enlightenment in the Digital Age), highlights the dangers of online information operations conducted by countries such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, and China. According to the study:
January 2022 In less than two decades, the digital space has become a privileged field of confrontation and strategic competition between states and a new military domain for France and other countries. The arsenal of digital combatants now includes information operations. Information wars are certainly not new and are even inherent in military strategy, whether it involves convincing public opinion of the legitimacy of a fight, countering the influence of adversary or use trickery to deceive the enemy in order to obtain a tactical advantage. But their transposition into the digital world poses unprecedented problems that disrupt democratic life. This is evidenced by the cancellation of the possibility of electronic voting for French nationals living abroad in the 2017 presidential elections, due to Russian interference operations in the American electoral campaign of 2016. The reasons for these disturbances and the difficulties in coping with them are multiple. On the one hand, the evolution of the global geopolitical context leads to a logic of permanent confrontation that characterizes conflict in the digital age. This logic leads to the emergence of increasingly hybrid threats that involve a wide variety of actors and operating methods and complicate their understanding, detection and prevention. On the other hand, the digital space is inherently dual and ultra-dynamic. This results in significant interactions between the civilian, economic and military worlds that blur the notions of interior/exterior theater and produce effects that in turn fuel the threat. Finally, these informational maneuvers have become internationalized over the past two years with the hardening of the strategic context and the rise of geopolitical tensions linked to the health crisis. Publications and public statements have pointed to influence operations by Russia, Turkey, Iran and even China.
[Translated from French with Google Translate, minor edits]
Read the full report here.
The Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) has extensively covered foreign influence operations targeting France. In November, we reported that France created an office to counter foreign media manipulation called VigiNum, which has been allocated an annual budget of 12 million Euros.