The Co-Opting of French Unrest to Spread Disinformation

WIRED | 12/11/2018 | Paris Martineau
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Anti-government protests have raged across France for four weeks now, effectively shutting down the nation’s capital at times as rioters sporting yellow vests (gilets jaunes) wage massive public demonstrations, loot stores, and clash with police. The gilets jaunes protest began in response to a planned gas tax hike, but it soon devolved into a more amorphous outpouring of rage. On Saturday, four days after President Emmanuel Macron gave in to the group’s original demands and suspended the tax increase, more than 125,000 gilets jaunes took to the streets in one of the most destructive riots yet.

Online, a more insidious war rages. On Twitter, outsiders with little or no association with France or French politics—including far-right figureheads, conspiracy theorists, and pro-Kremlin influence networks—are capitalizing on interest in the gilets jaunes to spread disinformation, push state-sponsored propaganda, and advance their own political agendas. Research reviewed by WIRED indicates that these accounts are responsible for at least tens of thousands of posts on Twitter, many of which were then shared by thousands of others, often unaware they were spreading disinformation. The campaigns have echoes of the Russian-inspired disinformation effort in the US during the 2016 election.

Weeks - Gilets - Movement - Ryan - Fox

In the weeks since the gilets jaunes movement took off, Ryan Fox, COO of New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company that tracks Russian-related influence operations on Twitter, has noticed a network of accounts that his organization believes is connected to Russia shift its focus to France. Since Oct. 28, these 340 accounts have created and amplified content about the brutality of the French police, Macron’s inability to lead the nation, and anti-NATO or anti-migrant sentiments more than 20,000 times, according to New Knowledge. Among the claims: Macron’s treatment of the gilets jaunes is worse than Bashar al-Assad’s treatment of Syrian rebels.

Roughly two weeks after they had first mentioned #GiletsJaunes...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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