Russia Helping Stoke French Protests
Moscow continues using information warfare to sow division in Western society.
While the underlying grievances are decidedly French, the protests are getting a push from the outside.
The Times of London (“Russian accounts fuel protesters’ outrage online“):
Hundreds of social media accounts linked to Russia have sought to amplify the street protests that have rocked France, according to analysis seen by The Times.
The network of accounts has circulated messages on Twitter that focus on the violence and chaos of the yellow vest or gilet jaune riots. As the unrest began last month, a group of about 200 monitored accounts was churning out approximately 1,600 tweets and retweets a day. A large proportion of the accounts appear to be so-called “sock puppets”, which purport to be run by westerners.
According to an analysis by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company, the accounts have spread disinformation, using photographs of injured protesters from other events to bolster a narrative of brutality by French police.
The remainder is, alas, behind a paywall.
Bloomberg (“Pro-Russia Social Media Takes Aim at Macron as Yellow Vests Rage“):
Emmanuel Macron successfully dodged cyberattacks and fake news reports that were widely blamed on a Kremlin effort to destabilize his 2017 presidential campaign.
Now, with France convulsed by violent protests, the Russians appear to be back – and may be hitting closer to their mark. Among 600 Twitter accounts known to promote Kremlin views, the top hashtag now is #giletsjaunes, the French name for the so-called Yellow Vests protest movement, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a unit of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. that monitors those accounts and other pro-Kremlin activity.
The Twitter accounts monitored by the alliance usually feature U.S. or British news. But the French protests “have been at or near the top” of their activity for at least a week, says Bret Schafer, the alliance’s Washington-based social media analyst. “That’s a pretty strong indication that there is interest in amplifying the conflict” for audiences outside France, he says.
A major theme of recent tweets is that French law enforcement is on the verge of mutiny. That assertion – which doesn’t appear to be supported by facts – resembles other Kremlin-backed disinformation campaigns that have tried to engender mistrust in Western governments and show that liberal democracies are in decline, Schafer says.
Much of the tweeted material comes from Russian state media outlets including the Sputnik news website, the RT television network, and Ruptly, a German-based video news agency that belongs to RT. These outlets are covering the French crisis closely; RT has said that 12 of its journalists have been injured in the protests, far more than any other news organization.
Sputnik and RT have reported in recent days that most French police no longer support Macron and are siding with the protesters. Their sources: representatives of two small police unions that together won less than 4 percent of votes in nationwide union elections this month. Sputnik and RT also have shown a video – widely shared on French social media — of police in the southwestern town of Pau removing their helmets in what was described as a sign of solidarity with protesters. Local police and journalists on the scene said the description was untrue. They said some officers had briefly removed their helmets to talk with protesters before putting them back on.
As with the Russian influence campaign in the 2016 US elections, it’s impossible to quantify the impact. As noted in a piece earlier this morning, violent protests are a normal part of French politics and the frustrations that are apparently fueling this round predate Macron’s election. But Moscow has become quite good at stoking divisions in Western societies as part of its political warfare.