In the days, weeks and months leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a coordinated network of automated social media profiles known as “bots” helped spread what has become known as “fake news” — a term that was popularized once the intelligence community announced their consensus belief that the Kremlin interfered with the election to an unprecedented degree.
Now, experts are looking to the upcoming 7 May 2017 French election runoff with fear that the Russian government is using the same methods that succeeded in fomenting information chaos in the U.S. could similarly disrupt other high-stakes contests in Western democracies.
Experts say the Kremlin aims to weaken such countries from the inside out by waging disinformation campaigns that exploit existing social tensions and promote mistrust in institutions of government and knowledge. Most recently, they have done so with what intelligence experts call “active measures” or cyber activities that spread disinformation to support anti-establishment candidates — like President Donald Trump and France’s extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Such candidates have been buoyed by growing nativist and protectionist sentiments from current global trends in migration that have created an anti-immigrant climate in Europe, the United States and other relatively stable countries where people have in large numbers sought refuge from violence and war in places like Syria.