French election 2022: Misinformation spreads online ahead of the first round vote

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France's first round of the presidential election takes place on April 10.

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Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and following the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, emotions in France’s political sphere are arguably higher than ever

Analysts have suggested that the upcoming 2022 presidential election has more weight than ever for Europe, given that France holds the European Union presidency until July.

As is common for election campaigning, misinformation and false claims have woven their way into political debates and online conversations.

Thousands of social media users have shared the false claim that Dominion’s electronic voting equipment would be used to validate the results of the first round of voting even though France has never used the company in elections.

The Canadian company had been falsely accused by former US President Donald Trump and his supporters of facilitating widespread electoral fraud during the 2020 election.

Dominion Voting Systems have always denied the unfounded allegations and they later claimed over €1 billion in damages for defamation.

False claims about the election being “stolen” have appeared on a variety of social media groups supporting far-right candidates Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour, or left-wing hopeful Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Some far-right accounts — echoing Trump’s claims — had voiced concerns about Dominion being used to manage France’s election.

Users on Facebook, Twitter, and Vkontakte have relayed claims made by Russia’s foreign ministry that the election would be “totally rigged”. The rumours led the word “Dominion” to become a trending subject on French Twitter in mid-March.

But the French Interior Ministry has categorically denied that Dominion systems will be used.

Euronews via TwitterDozens of accounts have spread false claims about Dominion voting systems in France.Euronews via Twitter

“The Ministry of the Interior does not and has never called on the services of the Dominion company in the context of the organisation of the elections,” a statement read.

“The results of the counting of the votes in each municipality are communicated in real-time … by means of computer systems for centralising the results developed by the [ministry] computer services for several years.”

“[These] are the subject of tests and security approval of the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (L’ANSSI) in particular in order to avoid any attempt at manipulation.”

Dominion makes no reference to any contract with French authorities on its website, while Paris has said that it does not use external services to count ballots.

Unfounded rumours of “election fraud” are not uncommon in Europe and appeared recently ahead of elections in both Germany and the Netherlands.

French President Emmanuel Macron has previously warned that election misinformation poses a threat to democracy, and has argued that those responsible for spreading “fake news” online should be held accountable and possibly brought to justice.

The French government last year created a specific agency to combat foreign disinformation, while independent fact-checkers have also been stepping up their efforts ahead of the April election.

“Misinformation about voting continues to flourish online – in the US of course — but in Europe too,” Chine Labbe, Managing Editor at NewsGuard, wrote in 2020.

“And just as it threatens the essence of American democracy, it is also threatening to sow distrust in the electoral process in Europe ahead of crucial elections.”

Additional sources • AFP

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