David Keohane, Financial Times, January 3, 2018
France is set to fight back against the tide of so-called fake news with a law in 2018 aimed at protecting liberal democracy.
French president Emmanuel Macron announced a bill to take on the spread of false news, especially during elections, during an annual message to the press in Paris on Wednesday evening.
“I have decided that we are going to evolve our legal system to protect our democracy from fake news. A law will follow in due course,” said the French president.
“There is a financial strategy which sets its sights on fostering doubt, forging alternative realities, that allows people to say that the media and politicians are always more or less deceptive,” added Mr Macron.
The French president said the new law would be brought in before the end of the year. He wants the law to target social media and force online platforms to increase transparency around sponsored content. It will allow content to be taken down and sites to be blocked if necessary.
“The freedom of the press is not a special freedom, it is the highest expression of freedom,” said Mr Macron. “If we want to protect liberal democracies, we have to be strong and have clear rules.”
So-called fake news, often spread by social media, has become an increasing problem in the political process, with elections in the UK, France and the US targeted by disinformation campaigns — for commercial or more overtly political reasons.
Mr Macron has repeatedly accused Russian television channel RT of disseminating false information about him and his campaign during the presidential election earlier in the year.
His presidential bid was the victim of a “massive and co-ordinated” hacking operation in May according to his campaign team. Documents posted online appeared to contain details of emails and financial data from Mr Macron’s En Marche! campaign.
While the source of the leak was unclear, security experts quickly pointed to a Russian hacking group believed to be an arm of the GRU, the Kremlin’s military intelligence agency.
Earlier this year, Germany said it would impose fines of up to €50m on social networks that fail to delete hate speech or fake news, in what was the firmest clampdown by a European country against internet platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Germany feared internet hoaxes and lies could hit the German democratic process, much as they did during the US election campaign when fictitious news stories — such as one claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump — went viral on Facebook.