Experts say automated accounts sharing fake news ahead of French election

ByREUTERS
April 21, 2017 03:08




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Breaking news. (photo credit:JPOST STAFF)

French voters are being deluged with false stories on social media ahead of the country's presidential election, though the onslaught of "junk news" is not as severe as that during last year's U.S. presidential campaign, according to a study by Oxford University researchers.

The study to be published Friday and another published on Wednesday add evidence to complaints by officials in France, Germany and the United States that Russia is trying to replicate its cyber-powered election meddling in American politics.

Just days before France votes in the first round of a presidential election, the study said misinformation at times has accounted for one-quarter of the political links shared on Twitter in France. It defined "junk news" as deliberately false stories and those expressing "ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan or conspiratorial" views with logical flaws and opinions passed along as facts.

"French voters are sharing better quality information than what many U.S. voters shared and almost as much quality news and information as German users share," according to the study by the Oxford Internet Institute, which will be published on Friday but was made available on Thursday to Reuters.

The French study uses data from a recent week on Twitter but a greater role is being played by Facebook, said Kevin Limonier of the University of Paris VIII, who is studying social media manipulation in the election with a grant from the French government.

Facebook recently suspended 30,000 suspected automated accounts in France. Although it characterized the cleanup as an objective move against spamming, many of the profiles were distributing politically driven misinformation and propaganda.

On Twitter, where automated accounts are allowed, many of the same accounts that promoted Republican Donald Trump in the U.S. campaign last year have turned their attention to pushing conspiracy theories and far-right viewpoints, according to Limonier and Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and now a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.

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