You are fake new! He is fake news! Everyone is fake news! Now it seems that French elections, similar to the U.S elections have been plagued by Russian backed fake news, that have showed up on French peoples’ news feeds. This election also provides a test for whether social media companies are able to filter out the fake news. The latest French election is of key importance since many experts cite it as the determinant of whether the European Union stays together or vanishes as a failed experiment, with Marie Le Pen promising a referendum on France’s membership in the EU, there is a lot on the line.

Jonathan Deitch, from Bakamo.Social, consulting firm cites that about 25% of the links shared by users on social media about the French elections are actually fake news stories. Many of these stories were linked to Russian websites and Russian social media accounts. From Russian state run media sources it is clear that the populist candidate Marie Le Pen is the favorite of the Kremlin and many of the fake news stories have been targeting the other front runner, Macron. Many Russian government officials see Macron as a threat to President Vladimir Putin’s power, and Le Pen has openly support the 2014 annexation of Crimea and as a result opposes the Russian sanctions passed by the European Parliament.

In order to combat the spread of fake news, Twitter and Facebook have made tweaks to their algorithms and collaborated with local press and fact checkers. A platform that brings social media companies and journalist together is CrossCheck. This platform was started with the French election as the target and they work to verify news stories, news stories that are found fake are flagged and are removed. Users are able to publish news reports for verification, journalist within the organization will create a report card for the news story thus determining its authenticity. This will allow more policing and transparency in identifying and removing fake news stories. Hopefully reducing the amount of misinformation, that could affect the outcome of such a crucial election.

Example of fake news story identified by CrossCheck
Image courtesy: CrossCheck 

Facebook has also been deleting 30,000 fake accounts in France, these accounts were deemed to be creating inauthentic activity and spreading Russian based fake news stories. Facebook also has created a system to detect fake accounts, for example accounts that perpetually post the same news stories over and over. Facebook claims that these steps will help to reduce the number of fake accounts and reduce the financial incentive to create and spread fake news stories.

The Russian government’s goals for spreading these fake news stories is to weaken the governments of the nations targeted and to get more favorable leaders elected. In a testimony Clint Watts, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent cited that Russia has five main objectives with the fake news stories, undermine trust in democracy, flare up political divides, erode trust between citizens and elected officials, push and popularize Russia friendly agenda, and create mistrust in information and media sources. All these aspects combined, the Russian government hopes that it can destabilize and crumble democracies from inside.

The issue of fake news is very complex and begs the question, who should be responsible for policing fake news. Facebook and other social media companies have begun to take actions and the French election will definitely be a test to see how effective those systems are. But not matter how many tweaks to an algorithm or how many fake accounts are removed it is still important to instate a sense of common sense in people. It all starts with the people reading the fake news stories, if they can identify it as fake news then it isn’t allowed to spread. So, I think it all starts with people first and no matter how much social media companies do to prevent fake news ultimately it is everyone’s responsibility to verify the authenticity of the stories they are reading.

Featured Image courtesy of Flickr user Frédéric BISSON


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