The day after Marine Le Pen officially launched her campaign in Lyon, Facebook and Google announced they would be working together with French media companies to prevent the spread of ‘fake news’. Though many on all sides may fear the effect this might have on independent media and free speech, it is the leader of the Front National who may well benefit the most.
European governments are battling down the hatches ahead of a multitude of elections across the continent this year. The lessons learnt from last years US presidential elections, which shocked the world when political outsider Donald Trump won, have been taken to heart. With fears of cyber attacks, email hacks, vote tampering and ‘fake news’, many countries have taken steps to defend their elections.
Holland (whose election is March 15th) has switched back to hand counting votes. Germany (September 25th) is already working with Facebook to prevent fake news. Russia in particular has been named as a country believed to have hacked into the systems of many EU countries, though ‘proof’ of their involvement remains disputed.
France is no different. It has made plans to double it’s “digital soldiers”, invited the French cybersecurity agency ANSSI to monitor the election, urged it’s parities to practice “digital caution”, and yesterday many of it’s largest media companies teamed up with Facebook and Google to prevent the spread of ‘fake news’.
This ‘fact checking’ system bodes well for Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s ring-wing Front National. Like England’s Nigel Farage, Holland’s Geert Wilders, Germany’s Frauke Petry, and America’s Donald Trump, she represents ‘something different’, and there lies her attraction. Le Pen, and her far right foreign comrades, offer a true alternative to people unhappy with the same policies under a different party.
Marking ‘fake news’ as fake, won’t hide it away. It will likely become a badge of honour for pro Le Pen supporters, especially if (as expected) she wins the first round, and the French mainstream media increase their attacks on her ahead of the second round. When France’s fact checkers get something wrong (which happened to the Guardian last month), Le Pen supporters will jump on it and spread it around social media, further dissolving trust in the fact checkers. When they refuse to mention a policy or air a Marine Le Pen speech, her supporters will spread it on Twitter and Facebook.
The Second Round
With her likely opponent in the second round being Emmanuel Macron, marking her as anti-establishment only helps her campaign. The ex-Rochchild banker and Minister of the Economy has been attacked by François Fillon in recent days, saying, “he ran Hollande’s program and most of his policies”, and these kind of attacks will only increase as the election draws near.
By taking control of what they deem is ‘fake news’ and what isn’t, France’s media have placed themselves as part of the establishment, and therefore, behind Macron. By defining what is and isn’t ‘real news’, they bring only distrust upon their publications, and push people with open minds to find the news they deem ‘fake’.
Pushing people into this echo chamber of ‘fake news’ is what could win things for Le Pen. As was seen in the US election with most mainstream networks and their overwhelming Clinton support, people turned away from mainstream media and found their opinions on social media, and ‘fake news’.
Though current polls see Marine Le Pen losing to Emmanuel Macron (35% vs 65%) if she gets through to the second round (May 7th), there are still 3 months for things to change. Fillon has lost 6% from #penelopegate in a week, and with just over two weeks between the first and second round of voting, there could be big swings.
If her very vocal supporters are half as active as they are now, they will have the focus of millions of French citizens, unhappy with the biased reporting of their main stream media, and only too happy to find a reality in ‘fake news’.
And if that happens, fingers should be pointed at the French media. Because they are in charge of the truth now.