France sets up an agency to fight foreign fake news with the aim of undermining the state
Issued on: May 6th, 2021 – 9:51 am
The French government has announced that it will set up an agency to fight foreign disinformation and fake news, aiming to “undermine the state”. The move comes as France prepares for next year’s presidential election.
The French agency, headed by the General Secretariat for National Defense and Security (SGDSN), will employ 60 people to crawl online content, SGDSN boss Stephane Bouillon told parliament.
Bouillon told the National Assembly’s Defense Committee that the initiative was “not about correcting or finding out the truth” but rather identifying attacks that “come from a foreign country or organization aiming to politically infect the state destabilize”.
The agency would “help politicians, diplomats, the judiciary and the press understand that of the 400,000 tweets about this or that message, 200,000 came from a bot farm in a foreign region or that a particular debate came from a” troll farm, “he added added.
During the last French presidential election in 2017, Russian-affiliated groups were blamed for a massive hacking attack on centrist President Emmanuel Macron’s party, who ran the second run-off against anti-EU nationalist Marine Le Pen.
Russian hackers are also accused of trying to overturn the 2016 US election in favor of former President Donald Trump and interfering in the UK’s Brexit vote.
Moscow denies hacking or meddling in foreign elections.
No secret service
Bouillon insisted that the new French agency, which will be launched in September, will not act as an intelligence agency.
Its activities are reviewed by an ethics committee composed of the judiciary, diplomatic corps, media and the research community, he said.
“Our goal is to discover something that is spreading as quickly as possible and to report the arsonist.”
“Once the forest burns, it’s sad, but it’s too late,” said Bouillon.
He said the SGDSN will be closely following the parliamentary elections in Germany in September, hoping to learn from them.
France will also be keeping a close watch on social media in December, when the French Pacific Territory of New Caledonia holds its third independence referendum, to see “if there are countries that have an interest in the outcome taking a direction that is not necessarily that.” , the “New Caledonians themselves would vote for it,” he said.
The neighbors already have one
France is not the first country to have a government agency to combat disinformation.
The US State Department’s Global Engagement Center is tasked with identifying and counteracting foreign propaganda and disinformation.
In 2018, the UK government also set up a unit to combat disinformation “by state actors and others”.
Three years earlier, the EU had set up the East StratCom Task Force with the stated intention of combating Russian anti-EU campaigns.