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A ‘fake news’ crackdown could follow Macron’s election win in France

The incoming French president could take aim at the role social media sites play in spreading misinformation.

Presidential Candidate Emmanuel Macron Votes In Le Touquet Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Some in Silicon Valley breathed a sigh of relief as French voters overwhelmingly backed Emmanuel Macron as their next president over the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen.

Whether that’s short-lived, however, depends on what Macron meant when he pledged this month to “regulate the internet.”

In the final days of a blistering campaign, Macron found himself on the defensive against the elusive, conspiring forces of “fake news.” Now, as he prepares to oversee France, Macron must decide whether to follow through with his promise to crack down on the practice — and, potentially, the websites that serve as conduits for spreading it.

The newly elected French president fired his last major salvo at such misinformation just last week, when he filed a legal complaint against Le Pen after she pointed during a debate to a report that Macron had a secret offshore bank account. In a subsequent statement on Thursday, Macron said he sought to “stop fake news,” adding that there’s a need to “regulate the internet because today certain players are activists and have a very important role in the campaign.”

Days later, hackers believed to be tied to Russia stole more than eight gigabytes of private emails and other documents from the Macron campaign and published them online. The data — shared widely on Twitter and other sites, often by bots tied to U.S.-based “alt-right” groups — drew a sharp rebuke from the current French government, which signaled that it would take action against media companies that disseminated the hacked information.

Last month, Facebook illustrated the wide-ranging effects of “fake news” throughout the grueling French presidential election. In a report studying online misinformation, the company’s security researchers admitted that they had to take action against roughly 30,000 pages that spread misinformation.

Taken together, the steady stream of politically motivated, fact-challenged content shared widely on social media led the president of the European Council to slam the “tyranny of fake news” on Sunday:

The week’s events could presage more regulation of the social giants in France, continuing a growing trend in Europe in the months after the United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the EU and Donald Trump surged to victory in the United States.

Germany and the U.K., for example, have explored new laws to address social platforms and fake news, and in January, the E.U. sounded off about the need to combat “fake news.”

For now, though, some in the tech industry are rejoicing at the election of a leader viewed as business-friendly. After Macron won enough of the vote to proceed to a run-off election, the Consumer Technology Association — which hosts the yearly CES trade show in Las Vegas, which Macron has visited — congratulated him. The group reprised its support in another statement issued after the final vote on Sunday.

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