Just months after Emmanuel Macron was elected France’s president, evidence has surfaced of Russian tampering in his campaign, according to a Reuters report.
Facebook told U.S. officials that Russian intelligence agents used fake Facebook accounts and personas to infiltrate Macron’s campaign and others close to him during the election. But their efforts were apparently fruitless. Reuters reported that Facebook did not believe the accounts were able to get targets to download malware or share login information.
Macron won the May elections in a landslide victory. But much like the U.S. presidential election — and despite emphatic denials of election tampering— the digital fingerprints left behind told a more complicated story.
There’s been mounting evidence that Russian operatives used online tools and targeted U.S. officials in an attempt to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. Intelligence officers received reports that Russia-linked accounts targeted Defense Department employees and hacked into electoral systems. U.S. intelligence officials and researchers have also confirmed that strategic use of social media bots played a role in the spread of fake news that often disparaged contender Hillary Clinton and uplifted President Donald Trump.
A similar scenario played out in several European elections. In the U.S., bots were used to elevate Trump as the conservative candidate while disseminating information about liberal contenders Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Macron, France’s centrist front-runner, was up far right his nationalist opponent Marine Le Pen. As the online battles heated up, Macron was a prime target while a Le Pen was praised. For example, Macron’s campaign email accounts were hacked repeatedly and he was the target of an unsuccessful online smear campaign that suggested he was gay, a U.S. agent, and funded by Saudi Arabia.
Near the end of the campaign in France, Facebook said it shut down more than 30,000 accounts in April for reportedly influencing the French elections by posting fake news about Macron and in favor of Le Pen. Of those accounts, about two dozen surveillance accounts were nestled in disguised as “friends of friends of Macron associates and trying to glean personal information from them,” Reuters reported.
Tracking sophisticated online operations is difficult and absolute attribution is almost impossible. But the activity on Facebook’s platform ahead of the U.S. and French elections was enough to influence policy. Alongside the account crackdown, Facebook released a security report announcing new policies to address government manipulation of the platform. The social network’s strategy focuses mainly on fake news and containing the spread of false news stories that could be used to sway the public’s opinion.
It’s been months since Macron’s election, and politically affiliated bots tend to go dormant just to be reactivated at the flick of a switch. A recent study out of the University of Southern California found that there were 2 million bots dedicated to spreading fake news about Macron, and as many as one in five were used to attack Clinton in the U.S. election months before.