In early April, the Russian state media outlet Sputnik published a story suggesting Emmanuel Macron, centrist candidate for the French presidency, was "a U.S. agent" and possibly "acting in the interests of the U.S. financial market in France." Another article, published in French, claimed Macron's campaign was being financed by Saudi Arabia — and despite being completely inaccurate, it generated 10,000 likes, shares, and comments on Facebook.
The Russian fake-media machine has trained its sights on the French elections, and there are just two days to go in what has been a roller-coaster campaign. Opinion polls have the leading candidates, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, left-wing veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon, conservative François Fillon, and centrist, pro-Europe candidate Emmanuel Macron separated by the polling margin of error ahead of the Sunday vote.
But Russian state media has a clear preference: Stop Macron by any means necessary.
The effort to slow down Macron has been conducted by both state-owned Russian media outlets like RT and Sputnik — both of whom set up French outposts in recent years — as well as less official channels like far-right blogs, Twitter bots, and troll farms, all of which are used to amplify the message from Moscow.
The surge of propaganda was triggered when conservative Fillon slipped in the polls as the result of a corruption scandal involving his wife. "When Fillon's poll ratings slumped and Emmanuel Macron, who is much more pro-EU and pro-U.S., surged, the Kremlin media jumped to broadcast attacks on Macron," Ben Nimmo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, told VICE News.
Disinformation spread by Russian state media outlets has been amplified on social media using a complex network of bots which the Digital Forensic Research Lab this week showed can be linked directly back to the Twitter accounts of both RT and Sputnik in France.
Read the full story on VICE News.