The country of France has reported being the victim of a destabilization effort by Russia on the internet. This involved the use of automated social media accounts to create controversy and spread confusion surrounding the spray-painted Stars of David seen on the streets of Paris. This campaign also sparked concerns about a rise in antisemitism in France during the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Around 250 blue stars were rapidly removed and are currently being investigated by French authorities. They are trying to determine if the graffiti was anti-Semitic, as initially suspected by Paris’ police chief and others, and if it was orchestrated from outside of France.
The recent stenciling of stars on walls in Paris and its surrounding areas sparked immediate discussions and worry on social media. There are also concerns about the safety of France’s Jewish population, which is the biggest in Europe.
Since the onset of the latest and most severe conflict between Israel and Hamas on October 7th, there has been an increase in antisemitic incidents, with French officials reporting over 1,150 cases. This number is almost three times higher than the total number of attacks against the Jewish community in France in 2022, according to the Interior Ministry.
The French Foreign Ministry released a statement on Thursday evening, accusing Russia of creating a stir on social media about a celebrity through the use of thousands of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter. Bots, which are automated accounts designed to imitate human behavior by creating posts or following users, were used for this purpose and are often associated with harmful intentions.
The statement stated that the recent instance of Russian digital manipulation in France shows that their strategy is still focused on taking advantage of global crises to cause chaos and stir up conflict in the discussions and debates within France and Europe.
According to the report, the bots were connected to a Russian network known as Recent Reliable News, which is also referred to as Doppelgänger.
In 2021, Viginum, a digital watchdog established by the French government, identified Russian involvement. This was initiated after hackers targeted Emmanuel Macron’s campaign for the French presidency in 2017. Viginum’s main objective is to discover and evaluate foreign digital actions aimed at influencing online discussions in France.
The French Foreign Ministry reported that Viginum found 1,095 bots connected to RRN who shared 2,589 posts on X within two weeks. These posts added to the controversy surrounding the stenciled Stars of David.
According to the ministry, Viginum discovered that the RRN network was aware of the graffiti prior to other users on X. The ministry noted that RRN bots were the first to share information about the stars on the evening of Oct. 28, which was 48 hours before other photos of the stars were seen on X.
The EU has labeled RRN as a digital campaign aimed at manipulating information, which has also spread propaganda supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In addition to creating fake social media accounts, RRN has also utilized fake websites that imitate legitimate news sources and government pages. The Council of the EU stated in a July announcement of sanctions that this tactic is part of a larger hybrid campaign by Russia against the EU and its member states, and that Russian individuals and entities responsible for this campaign will face consequences.
This report has contributions from John Leicester, an AP journalist located in Le Pecq, France, and Kelvin Chan, an AP journalist located in London.