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Brigitte Macron targeted by transphobic fake news

Brigitte Macron, the French 'first lady' has been targeted by a vicious disinformation campaign, which claims that she was born male. She is not the first prominent female figure to be targeted by transphobic abuse.

French First Lady, Brigitte Macron, has been targeted by transphobic fake news
French First Lady, Brigitte Macron, has been targeted by transphobic fake news. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

A disinformation campaign has in the last days targeted the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron falsely claiming she was a born a man, adding to fears over internet fake news less than four months ahead of presidential elections.

Brigitte Macron, 68, intends to file a legal complaint to sue over the disinformation. “She has decided to start procedures, it’s in process,” her lawyer Jean Ennochi told AFP, without giving further details.

The false claim had grown in momentum on social media over the last days, mixing strong opposition to the centrist Macron with extreme right ideology and transphobia.

Fake news of transphobic nature targeting prominent political figures has been very rare in France until now, but is not a new phenomenon globally.

Women targeted in the past have included former US First Lady Michelle Obama, US Vice President Kamala Harris and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

But the eruption of attacks against Brigitte Macron, come as her husband, who celebrated his 44th birthday on Tuesday, prepares to fight what is expected to be a tense battle to seek re-election in April.

Macron’s relationship with his wife 24 years his senior as always attracted fierce media interest in France and outside. They first met when she led a drama class while he was still a teenage schoolboy.

This is not the first time that the Macron couple have been targeted by rumours targeting gender or sexual orientation. During the 2017 campaign when he won office, Emmanuel Macron had to deny claims about his alleged homosexuality.

For several months, messages have multiplied on social networks claiming that Brigitte Macron, born as Brigitte Trogneux, is a transgender woman whose first name at birth was Jean-Michel.

The false claims allege that a vast plot has been engineered to hide this change in civil status and, taking the conspiracy theory a step further, say accusations of pedophilia have been covered up.

Slow start to viral trend

This fake news first circulated very in a very low-key way.

The first such claim appears to have been made on Facebook in March by a user calling themselves “Natacha Rey”. The page of this “journalist” is swarming with conspiratorial theories and diatribes against the so-called “health dictatorship”.

The user’s postings mix family photos and purported civil status documents.

They were seized on by another Facebook user to make up the conspiracy theory that Brigitte Macron is a “satanist peado-criminal transgender”, a term echoing the QAnon conspiracy movement which originated in the United States and claims the world is ruled in secret by a pedophile elite.

The spreading of the claims began in mid-October with the publication of an article on the supposed “mystery of Brigitte Macron” in “Facts and Documents”, a review founded in 1996 by the shadowy ultra-right writer, Emmanuel Ratier, who died in 2015.

“Natacha Rey” claims to be the origin of the so-called investigation.

Almost two weeks after its publication, the hashtag #JeanMichelTrogneux appeared for the first time on Twitter on November 1 before being spread by a relatively little-followed account “Le Journal de la Macronie” which is staunchly opposed to the president, according to the InVid We Verify data analysis tool developed for AFP.

For nearly a month, the hashtag was not greatly visible, but experienced a spectacular rise in popularity from the beginning of December.

On December 6, it generated only 35 tweets, but produced more than 13,000 three weeks later.

According to InVid’s latest count, the hashtag has so far generated 68,300 retweets and over 174,000 likes. The interpretation of these figures is not unambiguous as the count includes both those who use the hashtag to promote their cause but also those who highlight the trend to denounce it.

As with many conspiracy theories, its main promoters come from a very diverse movement ranging from Covid-sceptics to French ultra-nationalists.

According to InVid, the Twitter account that posted the most messages on this fake news is thus run by a supporter of “Frexit” — France’s withdrawal from the EU — while the most retweeted user runs an online media denouncing “propaganda” over the Omicron Covid variant.

Member comments

  1. Misinformation has been gradually gaining momentum for the last decade, the social media companies have done very little to stop it growth. Armchair reporters and Armchair critics who do little research in the problems they are promoting, as there are plenty of critics of the system who continually feed and distort any truth on any subject, to any one who will listen. These people seldom put any official documents to to prove a point as distancing themselves from the reality is paramount.

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JOHN LICHFIELD

OPINION: France has two presidents – one is confident, the other weak and directionless

France has two Emmanuel Macrons: one is strangely depressed and directionless, the other confident and clear, writes John Lichfield. But which one will emerge in his second term as president?

OPINION: France has two presidents - one is confident, the other weak and directionless

There is a global Emmanuel Macron, confident and clear; and then there is a domestic Emmanuel Macron, who sometimes appears petulant and indecisive.

Global Macron is admired by many people outside France for his eloquence and his intelligence. He is also mocked and feared by some people abroad (especially in the Brexit camp in Britain) for his alleged pretentiousness and arrogance (in other words for his eloquence and intelligence).

For Global Macron, it has been a good couple of weeks. 

His speech to the United Nations General Assembly this week was the best given by any world leader.

He placed the Ukraine war in a sweeping, global and historical context, lambasting allegedly “neutral” countries for failing to stand up for the core UN principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The “fake” non-aligned countries were, he said, betraying not just the values of the UN but their own interests.

Macron has also been word perfect in his tributes to the Queen.

He obtained little credit for that fact from the hardest-line,  professional Macron-haters in the UK media. They preferred to concentrate on the fact that he wore posh trainers during an informal visit last weekend to the enormous queues of people waiting to file past Her Majesty’s coffin in Westminster.

King Charles has, however, seized on this opportunity to improve relations between France and Britain which Liz Truss had ignored. After a dinner with Macron in London last Sunday, the new king is reliably reported to have decided that his first state visit next year should be to France.

So much for the global Macron.

The other Macron, the domestic president, is newly re-elected but strangely weak and directionless.

His popularity in opinion polls is fading. He seems unable to come to terms with his loss of his parliamentary majority in the legislative elections in June. He has yet to give a clear road-map for his second term to his newly renamed Renaissance party and their centrist allies.

(REMEMBER: You can listen to John Lichfield discuss the crisis on the French left and the mixed fortunes of Emmanuel Macron in the latest episode of our Talking France podcast below)

He has alternated in recent weeks between Blood, Sweat and Tears warnings to the French people that they face a cold and difficult winter and a generous (but reluctant) decision to extend domestic energy subsidies for another full year.

He has alarmed some of his own allies by raising the possibility that he might use his emergency constitutional powers to push pension reform through a divided National Assembly.

At the same time, he has pressed ahead with his vague plan for a grandiloquently-named Conseil national de la Refondation (National refoundation council). This body is supposed to find common ground between Left and Right, unions and bosses, to “refound” the French welfare state created just after the 1939-45 war.

On the one hand,  Macron says that he wants to find a new social consensus for the 21st century. On the other hand, he says that he wants to charge, without negotiation, into the social and political minefield of pension reform.

In a briefing with journalists earlier this month, the President suggested that he could avoid a lengthy negotiation with unions and the parliament to increase the standard French retirement age (now in theory 62). Changes in system could be tacked onto the annual social security budget next month and then pushed through the Assembly, in effect, by decree.

This week, the government back-pedalled. No decision has yet been taken, they say. One of Macron’s principal allies, the veteran centrist leader, François Bayrou, warned that any attempt to impose such a transformation on French lives by force would be a calamity.

How can we explain the two Macrons?

Partly, they reflect the constitutional powers given to French presidents. On international affairs and European affair, Macron can go largely his own way. On domestic policy, if he has no majority in parliament, his powers are limited.

I believe, however, that the problem runs deeper. There have been reports for months that Macron suffered after his re-election in April from a “drop in energy” or a period of depression.

The second half of his first term had been brutally occupied with non-stop management of the Covid and Ukraine crises. His attempts at mediating with Vladimir Putin had been a discouraging failure.

After his victory over Marine Le Pen, Macron drifted for weeks, delaying his decisions on a new Prime Minister and a new government. He was strangely absent from the parliamentary campaign in June (well below the limits imposed by his position as head of state).

Macron’s distraction contributed to his failure to win a new parliamentary majority; his lack of a majority has, I believe, compounded his mood of indecision and depression.

What to do with five years of a second term? Should he accept that his only role is now crisis-management? After all there are crises enough to manage.

Is the career of the self-proclaimed revolutionary of 2017 finished at the age of 44?  He cannot run again in 2027. He faces the prospect of five years of managerialism and drift while attention switches to his possible successors, from Edouard Philippe in the centre to Marine Le Pen on the Far Right.

“Macron is a magician who has lost his wand,” says one pro-Macron parliamentarian. “He’s still searching  for a way forward, a sense of direction. In short, he has the blues.”

By comparison with French politics, international crises are simple. Macron has clear ideas about the place of France and Europe in the world. He can express himself, both off the cuff and in set-piece speeches, with elegance and intelligence.

Macron has had no other position in elected politics than President of the Republic. He has no background as local or parliamentary politician. The prospect of five years of grinding negotiation to achieve quarter-baked reforms is, I believe, appalling to him.

Hence, his domestic zig-zagging.

He faces three choices in the next few months. He can accept a role as a manager of crises and minimal reforms; he can risk a Yellow Vest-type revolt by using, maybe abusing, his limited constitutional powers to impose change.

Or he can hope for an opportunity in the first half of next year to call a new parliamentary election.

Which way will he go? I don’t know. Nor, I suspect, does Emmanuel Macron.

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