France: ‘Fake news’ panics a nation
France is going to give Alsace-Lorraine back to Germany! That’s the kind of ridiculous lie, said François Guéroult in FranceBleu.fr, that populist extremists have been spreading to frighten the French. A far-right French member of the European Parliament, Bernard Monot, claimed in a video released online last month that the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle—a bilateral pact just signed by France and Germany—contained a poisonous clause. The treaty, he insisted, would restore Berlin’s control over the two French border regions that were seized by Germany in the 19th century and returned after World War I. “The assertion is of course delirious.” The “mostly symbolic” new treaty merely renews a Berlin-Paris friendship pact from 1963 and doesn’t even mention Alsace or Lorraine by name. You’d laugh, except that tens of thousands of people saw and believed Monot’s rant about President Emmanuel Macron’s transformation into a “Judas” bent on selling out his country. Once all the major newspapers and broadcasters had debunked the charge, Monot quietly deleted his video.
By then, though, the lie had begotten more lies, said Maxime Vaudano in Le Monde. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally—formerly the National Front—claimed that the treaty would enable Germany to take France’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, “which is absolutely false.” Other right-wing politicians, from fringe parties such as the Popular Republican Union, insisted that the pact would also force the German language upon border residents; in fact, it merely encourages bilingualism. Far from being ashamed at what he wrought, Monot is smug, saying he’s proud to have “opened a debate on a subject that was totally invisible.”
Macron is taking the problem of fake news seriously, said Mathilde Siraud and Marcelo Wesfried in Le Figaro. His government passed a law last year that forces companies such as Facebook and Twitter to reveal the source of funding for any sponsored content on their French sites—largely to pre-empt Russian meddling. Macron’s new law also lets candidates sue quickly for the removal of contested news reports during an election campaign; if a court rules a story false, it must be taken down. But how can you scrub a lie from the internet, where falsehoods metastasize?
It’s no coincidence that Monot’s lie was spread by online video, said Hadrien Mathoux in Marianne. YouTube is a cesspool of hate. Propagandist Alain Soral, “the undisputed master of the French political internet,” used it to indoctrinate hundreds of thousands with his repellent mix of “Marxism, nationalism, and virulent anti-Semitism.” He was sentenced last month to a year in prison for inciting hatred of Jews. One of the most popular French YouTubers is Raptor, a young man who makes sleekly edited and wickedly funny videos eviscerating such groups as “feminists, leftists, and ‘anti-Trump crybabies.’” French youth don’t read newspapers; they don’t even watch TV news. They’re on the internet—and that is where “the extreme right holds sway.” ■