January 15, 2020

FranceLibre24.net is a site that presents itself as a “French news website”, hiding both the fact that it was created in Poland in July 2019, and that it’s heavily tied to a controversial Polish far-right media network (Najwyższy Czas! & Wolnosc24).

Owners of the website almost exclusively publish French-language content on polarising topics, such as identity, religion, immigration, and insecurity, covering French news in detail, but also some international news. A majority of their articles are presented as being sourced from French mainstream media as a means to gain legitimacy. However, when analysing them it becomes clear that most of the articles are often rewritten with different titles, unproven and/or false details to disinform readers, with the aim of pushing them to adopt more extreme views. In a relatively short time since its creation, FranceLibre24.net has already managed to build a significative audience (380k visits in Oct 2019, 150k visits in Nov 2019, 140k visits in Dec 2019), and has seen its content already debunked by the recognised French fact-checker AFP Factuel.

To attract a wider French-speaking audience, the Polish website has also developed an active presence on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). On Facebook, the “France Libre 24” page has already 20k followers and the network used targeted ads several times to target both France and Quebec (French-speaking Canadian region). On Instagram, they regularly publish their own visuals, which often include very polarising and politicised messages.

Main takeaways from our investigation:

— Modifying content from legitimate sources (press agencies, media outlets, etc.) is a technique that allows some actors to create misleading information at a rapid pace.

— Deceptive websites regularly pose as real media outlets to gain an aura of legitimacy, which helps them to spread polarising narratives and disinformation items more easily.

— Social media is always used by these shady media outlets to disseminate their articles and rapidly build a wide audience.

— Such schemes can be developed on an international basis, with actors from one country attempting to spread disinformation and influence the political landscape in another, including within the European Union.

When asked how the EU might deal with examples such as France Libre 24 by POLITICO, our partner for this investigation, European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said the EU plans to address new forms of misinformation — including EU-grown ones — via a future framework called the European Democracy Action Plan.

One of the Action Plan’s objectives will be to “increase the cost of malign disinformation campaigns. Today, it is simply too cheap,” she told POLITICO. “We are actually increasingly concerned about disinformation by actors within member states and we observe cases of disinformation driven by non-state actors, related for instance to vaccinations or climate change.”

You can find more information about the individuals behind this disinformation network in a very detailed article by POLITICO with whom we collaborated for this investigation. 

You can also read more about the technical aspects of the investigation via our Twitter.

Image credit: FL24.net