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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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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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