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.
Russian State Media
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.