France creates agency to fight foreign disinformation

Published June 3, 2021
The French government on Wednesday announced plans to set up an agency to combat foreign disinformation and fake news that aims to  “undermine the state”. — Reuters
The French government on Wednesday announced plans to set up an agency to combat foreign disinformation and fake news that aims to “undermine the state”. — Reuters

PARIS: The French government on Wednesday announced plans to set up an agency to combat foreign disinformation and fake news that aims to “undermine the state”.

The move comes as France begins preparing for a presidential election in under a year’s time.

During the last such election in 2012, groups linked to Russia were blamed for a massive hacking attack on the party of centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who faced anti-EU nationalist Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Russian hackers are also accused of having tried to tilt the 2016 US election in favour of former president Donald Trump and of meddling in Britain’s Brexit vote. Moscow denies hacking and meddling in foreign elections.

The agency, which will be run by the SGDSN bureau for national security, will employ up to 60 people to trawl through online content, SGDSN chief Stephane Bouillon told parliament.

Bouillon told the National Assembly’s defence committee that the initiative was “not about correcting or establishing the truth” but identifying attacks that come “from a foreign country or organisation that aims to destabilise the state politically”.

The agency would help “politicians, diplomats, the judiciary and the press to realise that, out of the 400,000 tweets on this or that news item, 200,000 are coming from a bot farm in a foreign region or that a particular debate is coming from a troll farm,” he added.

Bouillon insisted that the new French agency, which will be launched in September, would not act as an intelligence service.

Its activities will be vetted by an ethics committee whose members will be drawn from the judiciary, diplomatic corps, the media, and the research community, he said.

“Our objective is to detect something that is spreading as quickly as possible and to flag up the arsonist.” “Once the forest has burned it’s sad but it’s too late,” Bouillon said.

He said that the SGDSN would be closely watching September’s parliamentary election in Germany in the hope of learning lessons from it.

France will also be watching social media closely in December when the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia holds its third referendum on independence, to see “whether there are countries who have an interest in seeing the result take a direction that is not necessarily the one that New Caledonians themselves would vote for,” he said.

Security sources said that the government had already put the project to the test in the wake of the Islamist murder of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in October 2020.

A cell set up to investigate a virulent anti-French campaign launched on social media after the murder traced the campaign to Turkey.

France is not the first country to create a government agency to fight disinformation.

The US State Department’s Global Engagement Centre is tasked identifying and countering foreign propaganda and disinformation.

In 2018, the British government also set up a unit to combat disinformation “by state actors and others”.

Three years earlier, the EU established the East Stratcom Task Force with the stated intention of fighting Russian anti-EU campaigns.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2021

Opinion

Editorial

The whole truth
28 Sep, 2022

The whole truth

THE war on truth has never been more relentless than it is today. Authoritarianism is on the rise and purveyors of...
Real-world trolls
Updated 28 Sep, 2022

Real-world trolls

It's reprehensible how PTI supporters now seem convinced that politicians from opposing camps aren't entitled to basic dignity.
Islamabad wildlife
28 Sep, 2022

Islamabad wildlife

PRESERVING biodiversity is low on the list of priorities of both state and society. However, successful attempts at...
Noon leaks
Updated 27 Sep, 2022

Noon leaks

PMO audio leaks are a national security emergency that ought to be investigated at the highest level.
Cipher probe offer
27 Sep, 2022

Cipher probe offer

CONSIDERING the toxic political polarisation in the country, former prime minister Imran Khan’s suggestion that ...
Delaying Doha plans
27 Sep, 2022

Delaying Doha plans

WHEN Doha announced its intention to spend $3bn in different commercial and investment sectors of Pakistan around a...