Macron’s Censorship Law for Democracy

While Macron believes that the Press Law of 1881 is not enough to fight the spread of fake news through social media in today’s world, the new law especially targets social media networks and media outlets that are controlled from outside of France.

Macron s Censorship Law for Democracy
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a military ceremony (Prise d'armes) at the Invalides in Paris, on November 26, 2018 Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron has waged war on “fake news.” In his new year’s speech to journalists at the Élysée Palace, Macron said: “If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules,” adding that they would strengthen their legal mechanisms to protect democracy from fake news. Although the law, which aims to fight fake news during election campaigns stirred many debates in all political spectrums, it still went through Parliament last week.

While Macron believes that the Press Law of 1881 is not enough to fight the spread of fake news through social media in today’s world, the new law especially targets social media networks and media outlets that are controlled from outside of France.

According to the new law, political parties or candidates can commence expedited legal proceedings about speculative or fabricated news during the three months before the general elections. In case of the spread of speculative or fabricated news, the news will be deleted after the proceedings, the membership of the user can be suspended, or other serious sanctions can be imposed such as banning access to the site in question.

The French audiovisual CSA (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) will have the authority to suspend the licenses of France-based media outlets controlled by other countries.

Just like in Germany, social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, will be responsible for removing fake news as soon as possible in France. When news outlets release political campaigns or propaganda tools that manipulate the electorate in a way to disrupt the election period, they will have to explain its source and the budget for endorsement.

More, the French audiovisual CSA (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) will have the authority to suspend the licenses of France-based media outlets controlled by other countries.

While Macron believes that the Press Law of 1881 is not enough to fight the spread of fake news through social media in today’s world, the new law especially targets social media networks and media outlets that are controlled from outside of France.

Although the law objectively draws attention to the modern dangers posed by social media networks and press organs affiliated with or run by foreign states in terms of shaping opinions, it substantially targets Russia and Russian media outlets. In a press meeting he held with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in May, Macron complained about Sputnik’s and Russia Today’s propaganda through speculative or fake news, although he refrained from giving any specific example. As can be remembered, during Macron’s presidential campaign, Sputnik and Russia Today alleged that Macron has a so-called “double life,” reporting a series of news alluding that Macron is financed by a wealthy gay lobby and that he has dubious relations with some American banks.

In addition, during an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stated that Hillary Clinton’s emails comprise some interesting information on Macron. Following this, the Washington Post commented that the Russian media strived to intervene in the French presidential elections by spreading rumors. In addition to this, Macron’s campaign spokesperson complained about the “influence of websites that are completely under Russian control and Russia’s cyber-attacks” in France. In response to Macron’s complaints on the Russian media, Russia’s Foreign Minister implied that these complaints are groundless suspicions and refused the accusations by arguing that such complaints are the consequence of the spread of the U.S.’s anti-Russia propaganda across other countries during the Obama period.

In a press meeting he held with Vladimir Putin in May, Macron complained about Sputnik’s and Russia Today’s propaganda through speculative or fake news, although he refrained from giving any specific example.

Is Macron a paranoiac? No. This is the very reason why the new law introduced in France is regarded as Macron’s personal law. It also signals that Macron is likely to run for president in the next elections.

On the other hand, a month before the April 2017 elections, a journalism project was initiated under the leadership of First Draft News of CrossCheck, which has been supported by the BBC. Many fake news that appeared during the French elections were refuted in collaboration with various news agencies based in Europe. Some head titles of these fake news included, “Emmanuel Macron received financial aid from Saudi Arabia for his election campaign,” “The French state will purchase hotels and houses worth £100 million to house immigrants,” and “The French state will replace the Christian religious holidays with Muslim and Jewish religious holidays.” More, a map shared by a social media user depicted that the acts of violence peaked in France. However, the map was actually portraying the period of the 2005 French riots, which started after Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore died by electrocution while running from police during ID check in November 2005. Soon after, protests escalated and turned into violence, involving the burning of cars. This led to the declaration of a state of emergency.

Is Macron a paranoiac? No. This is the very reason why the new law introduced in France is regarded as Macron’s personal law. It also signals that Macron is likely to run for president in the next elections.

Except for the first one, the other three incidents undoubtedly posed threats against social order. Is it possible to yield results from the attempts to shape politics, stir up chaos or manipulate society with fake news? Of course it is possible; opinion-shaping by disinformation is a common practice in the current context. Overall, such fake news did not work out in France, and did not reach the levels to threaten the societal peace or state governance. Yet, there are many countries where disinformation works, including Turkey. In the case of Turkey, the extent of fake news does not only consist of a bunch of news spread through social media. For the past five years, Turkey confronted severe threats ignited by thousands of lies spread through Twitter and Facebook, including the attempts to start a civil war and stage a military coup attempt, abetted by a superpower and its allies in the West and the Gulf countries.

Belkıs Kılıçkaya
Kılıçkaya worked as a journalist for Cumhuriyet and Milliyet newspapers. In 1992 she moved to Paris and completed her studies in International Relations. After returning to Turkey in 2009, Kılıçkaya started working for Habertürk. In 2016, she formed a three-part documentary on DAESH.