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ELECTION

Forget the Russians, are Americans meddling to help boost Le Pen’s chances?

While all pre-election talk has concerned fears that Moscow will try and influence the French presidential election, new data in France suggests American internet users are working hard to boost Marine Le Pen’s chances of victory.

Forget the Russians, are Americans meddling to help boost Le Pen's chances?
Photo: AFP

While Russia has been formally accused of trying to meddle in the French presidential election to seek a favourable outcome, it seems they are not the only ones (alleged) interfering.

The company Linkfluence, which monitors social media channels, released data to BFM TV that suggests American internet users are also trying to influence the outcome of the presidential election by helping to boost Marine Le Pen’s chances of winning.

It comes after news site Buzzfeed claimed in January that Trump supporters were pretending to be French online in a bid to help the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.

According to Linkfluence, which monitors all the millions of content added online,  some 50 percent of all comments or posts made online in the United States were about Marine Le Pen, with Linkfluence’s Guilhem Fouetillou saying there among these there were three times as many positive ones than the negative posts.

Linkfluence, like Buzzfeed did, suggested that it was the hordes of pro-Donald Trump internet users in America who were getting online in droves to back Le Pen.

“Most of these contributions come from pro-Trump accounts that were active during the American presidential campaign,” said Fouetillou.

Certain hashtags, including #MFGA – Make France Great Again (a spin on Trump’s election slogan Make America Great Again) give away the partisan nature of the social media users.

Fouetillou says he can see the influence of the American ‘alt-right’ – an extremist far right ideology, whose followers were accused of helping Trump to power.

Buzzfeed’s article in January included images from a private chatroom they had gained access to called “The Great Liberation of France”, hosted on a messaging platform called Discord.

It revealed how Trump supporters are organising online to create fake French accounts on social media.

Marine Le Pen is an admirer of Donald Trump and was quick to congratulate him on his election win in November.

She previously told reporters how Donald Trump would be good for France.

Linkfluence’s chief says the number of pro-Le Pen American social media users is only a tiny proportion of internet users but he says they are a highly organised group, who know how to occupy space online.

But can these online soldiers across the pond really influence French voters and help Le Pen become the next president?

Fouetillou says they can give her a certain boost, but are unlikely to be a deciding factor.

“There are always several factors that determine an election, but the significance of all this noise around Marine Le Pen is that it can give dynamism to her campaign and add to the foreign media coverage around her, which feeds the impression that she is powerful.”

Most of the talk about interference in the French elections has centred around Moscow's alleged attempts to meddle.

Last month the head of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee warned that Russia was interfering in the French election just as it did in the US presidential campaign last year.

Russia 'actively interfering' with French elections, warns US senator

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ELECTION

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”

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