Why American Far-Right Hackers Got Involved in the French Election

A lot of weird memes.

It’s unclear whether the recent hacking of Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche Party will have an effect on the outcome of the French election set for Sunday. But amid rumors of Russian interference, American far-right groups have aggressively promoted the leaked documents as part of a coordinated effort to sway the outcome of the election in favor of former National Front party president Marine Le Pen, according to reports.

Hours after the leaks occurred, the hashtag #MacronLeaks began trending worldwide. According to the New York Times, Jack Posobiec, a journalist working for the right wing news outlet The Rebel, was the first to use the hashtag with a link to the hacked documents. Since Friday, the hashtag #macrongate has also started circulating on Twitter.

The leaked material, which was originally disseminated by message boards like 4Chan and Pastebin, was eventually picked up by Wikileaks, which then began to parse through the documents and metadata.

American far-right activists attempted to dominate the political discourse a week ago using a “Twitter raid” of anti-Macron memes connected to the general hashtag #elysee2017.

A large portion of the online campaign to disseminate the leaks has also come from English-language sources. The Times reported that about half of the social media messages including political hashtags that linked to the leaks were written in English. And according to a review of Trendsmap data, many of them seem to have originated in the United States.

What’s more, twitterbots were responsible for over 40 percent of tweets using the hashtag #macrongate, according to Nicole Perlroth, a cyber security reporter at the New York Times.

The rise of Marine Le Pen and the National Front is viewed by many as having had a similar trajectory to that of once-outsider candidate Donald Trump. Both populist candidates campaigned on aggressive anti-immigration platforms and have attracted nationalist, racist, alt-right followings. Like the U.S. election, the French election campaign has also been plagued by unpopular candidates and a divided political left. The digital leak of Hillary Clinton’s campaign’s emails prior to the U.S. election also painted her in a negative light and likely contributed to Trump’s election win. Like Trump, Marine Le Pen — whose campaign has not been hacked — could stand to benefit from such leaks.

The leak may still have an underwhelming effect on the election. The two candidates remained quiet Saturday, as French law bans campaigning the day before an election and French media has also chosen to be discreet and cautious in their reporting on the data breach.

French polls open at 8 a.m. central European time (3 a.m. Eastern) and close at 8 p.m. (3 p.m. Eastern). Most votes will be counted by 6 p.m. Eastern, but results may be available even before that.

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