In May 2017, white nationalists based in the United States attempted to sway the French presidential election in favor of Marine Le Pen by using online forums as a launch pad for a massive propaganda effort.1
According to the group’s instructions:
The plan is this: If only 12 dedicated artists created 3 accounts each, we could effectively identify and manipulate HUNDREDS OF LOCAL NEWS PAGES and target specific LePen and Macron voting strongholds to promote LePen’s message and create an overwhelmingly negative image of Macron. And that only requires 12 people. It’s so fucking easy bro… Step 1. Create a French-looking FB account. See post for a guide on how to properly do this. Step 2. Find memes, get French translations, and copy pasta in our discord server or links in the post. Step 3. Use the catalog to find Facebook pages and coordinate with others in the Discord server. Step 4. Crash this EU… with no survivors. It’s that easy! NOW GET TO WORK, FAGGOT. THERE’S A WAR ON.
Organizers urged their fellow information warriors to create Facebook identities that would be unlikely supporters of the National Front (“ideally young, cute girl, gay, Jew, basically anyone who isn’t supposed to be pro-[FN]”) and maintained a list of the names of all the fake accounts on a Discord server.2
The group also recommended targeting anti-Islam and anti-immigration memes toward supporters of the center-right candidate while aiming anti-globalism memes at supporters of the socialist candidate.3
These propaganda efforts do not appear to have been successful. One reason for this failure might be the fact that most of the tweets were written in English. According to a New York Times analysis of the disinformation campaign:
“[S]uch moves have barely registered with French-speaking Twitter users, particularly local nationalists who already bristle at English overtaking French as the world’s most popular language…
‘[T]weets written in English don’t have much impact,’ said Mr. Chavalarias, who conducted the social media analysis for The Times. ‘But if they are posted with photos, then that can have more of an impact.’ The online campaigns have also failed to go viral because they have not been picked up by larger media outlets, a fundamental part of the playbook in spreading these messages in the United States.”4
Ultimately, Emmanuel Macron won the 2017 French Presidential election with 66% of the vote. Despite this overwhelming victory, and despite the failure of the alt-right propaganda campaign, journalists noted that Le Pen’s victory “marked a historic high for the French far right.”5
1 Josh Harkinson (2017, May 3), “Inside Marine Le Pen’s ‘foreign legion’ of American alt-right trolls,” Mother Jones.
2 Ryan Broderick (2017, January 24), “Trump supporters online are pretending to be French to manipulate France’s election,” Buzzfeed News.
3 Josh Harkinson (2017, May 3), “Inside Marine Le Pen’s ‘foreign legion’ of American alt-right trolls,” Mother Jones.
4 Mark Scott (2017, May 4) “In French elections, alt-right messages and memes don’t translate,” New York Times.
5 Liz Alderman (2017, May 8) “Emmanuel Macron vows unity after winning French presidential election,” The Guardian.