Seven years of disinformation in the French media


Seven years of disinformation in the French media

Disinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories: while the manipulation of information is nothing new, it has taken on a new dimension over the past few years, to such an extent that previously uncommon terminology has entered our everyday language. The media has reacted by creating teams dedicated to verifying the most widely reported information.

As a platform that traces the source and journey of a piece of content, Newsback has examined the rise of this phenomenon in the French written and online media. When has the media talked most about it? What are the trending topics for fake news? What terminology does the media use?

Using Newsback’s unique and vast indexation database and high-quality recognition technology to search 3,000 French publications and editorial web sites, the frequency of the following key phrases was analysed: disinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories and a French term: “infox”.



The rapid rise of a media phenomenon

In 2015, the main phrases used in discussing disinformation were moderately present in print and online media with 6,471 mentions. They rose steeply in 2016 and doubled in 2017 to 37,185 mentions: more than 100 per day. This growth continued at a more measured but steady pace until 2021, when more than 47,000 articles were listed: that’s a seven-fold increase over this period.

Two presidential campaigns – 2016 in the USA and 2017 in France – were marked by numerous controversies around the various candidates, and suspected disinformation campaigns coming from foreign states. These were followed by the yellow vests movement and COVID-19 which brought the now vast subject of “fake news” to the fore for the French media - in both a social and health context.

To tackle misinformation, the French administration launched a bill at the beginning of 2018 to tackle misinformation, which was passed later that year. The launch of the UK’s Online Safety Bill and the Online Media Literacy Strategy are evidence that the issue is equally serious in the UK.



Fake news

“You are fake news”. 11th January 2017: Donald Trump held his first press conference as President of the USA, during which he attacked CNN and the journalist Jim Acosta, accusing the channel of spreading false information. If “disinformation” was until that point the most used phrase in the French media, January 2017 marked the start of the phenomenon of “fake news”.

Conspiracy theories

The theme of conspiracy theories has profited greatly from the recent health crisis and has taken up vast amounts of column inches, notably since the screening of the documentary “Hold Up”. This controversial French film claimed to uncover a global conspiracy by world leaders to control citizens through the COVID-19 pandemic.



Infox

The notion of “Infox” – a combination of information and intox, meaning disinformation or hoax - quietly entered the French press in October 2018, following the recommendation of the Commission for Enriching the French Language to use this new word to define false information. Nevertheless, “fake news” and “disinformation” have accounted for 73% of mentions in the French media over the last 7 years, compared to just 22% for ‘‘conspiracy theories’’ and 6% for “infox”.



Methodology

The study was conducted between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2021, using Newsback’s unique and vast indexation database and high-quality recognition technology to search 3,000 French publications and editorial web sites. Articles that appeared in different editions of regional print publications were only counted once. The technology is being developed to be used across UK and European media.