Emmanuel Macron promised to fight fake news, and plans to do this week – with a law.
Trouble is, Macron may soon learn, like a lot of other world leaders, that putting the fake-news genie back in the bottle is far from easy to do.
Himself a victim of a disinformation campaign during the 2017 French vote, Macron's bill “to fight fake news” will be on the parliament on Thursday and from the influence of fabricated rumors, whether by extremist groups or so-called alternative media. Social media savvy observers, however, say, archaic tools like those proposed in Macron's bill are ill-suited to stop the rapid spread of false information in the age of Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc.
“They're fighting tomorrow's disinformation with yesterday's tools,” said Alexandre Alaphilippe, executive director at the EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based organization that researches disinformation on social media and gets funding from the Open Society Foundations and Twitter. “The core issues are the mechanisms of disinformation-spreading and influence-meddling. As long as this can not be tackled, the legal fight is tenuous. “
If it passes into law, online banners will be warned when information is available on social media. Macron is keen to get the law enacted before the European Parliament vote next time. .
Roiling the world
Fake news has been on the minds of the leaders around the world, roiling electoral processes from the US 2016 presidential race to the UK's Brechit referendum and Italy's March legislative vote. Countries across the globe are struggling to rein in this unchecked flow of false, doctored or misleading information. Italy is roping in its Polizia Postale, or postal police, to stop the spread of unfounded reports on the Web. Germany is relying on enforcing strong hate speech laws.
Macron's own brush with fake news rival Marine Le Pen for their sole television debate in May 2017, with a volley of reports flying through social media channels. A few days later, the “black-out” period, Macron's campaign was left with no way to counter the flood of false information.
Standing next to Vladimir Putin in Versailles' Palace a few months later, the French president said Russia Today and its sister company Sputnik worked “as agencies of influence and propaganda, lying propaganda” that spread “misleading information” about him during the presidential campaign.
Russia Today dismissed the charges as contributing to an “environment of baseless speculation”. In an e-mailed response, Sputnik said “adding that its journalists are already barred from the French presidential palace and government bodies without” any proofs of ” fake news' “published on its website.
Macron's bill seeks to get judges and the media sector's regulator involved in the fight against fake news. A fact-checking state-run website would have to be in the right direction.
The tools appear “modest”, said Nathalie Mallet-Poujol, a member of the Montpellier University Law.
“There's just no miracle solution the state could adopt,” Mallet-Poujol said. I do not think the answer can be only legal. It has to be part of the ensemble, “which also includes promoting ethics, more educated citizens and more responsible platforms, she said.
Also, there's a fine line between tackling fake news and hindering freedom of speech, she said. The state-backed fact-checking website has alarmed the mainstream media and opposition politicians have said it leaves France open to censorship by the government.
Macron says he is discussing the issue with Internet leaders like Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg during their Paris one-on-one talk last month.
In the run-up to the French elections, Facebook deleted thousands of fake accounts and offered users extras to help with fact-checking. It also ran full-page print ads in newspapers with tips on detecting fishy content. Facebook has also teamed up with local media to get reporters to fact-check posts. It highlights its partners have flagged with a banner.
“We are fully mobilized on this matter and are working actively and constructively with the French and European authorities.” “For now, Macron's bill falls on several fronts,” said Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire.
“The aim of the bill is legitimate, but it's not sharp enough and could become operative – it could backfire,” Deloire said. What's to stop someone from claiming a piece of fake information? he asked.
“We must invent a model, a framework for the future, for independent and verified information,” he said. Macron's bill “does not touch on that at all”. – Bloomberg