Twitter backs down after banning French government messages

Campaign to boost turnout in European elections fell fowl of new anti-fake news law

FILE - In this Sunday, June 24, 2018 file photo French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with the media at the conclusion of an informal EU summit on migration at EU headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)
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Social media giant Twitter used France’s own anti-fake news laws to ban a government campaign encouraging people to vote.

The government had attempted to launch its campaign on the platform but due to new laws introduced in December designed to restrict fake news, Twitter took the decision to block it.

But following an outcry, the social media giant announced a u-turn on Thursday morning.

France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner welcomed the news.

“I salute the decision @TwitterFrance. The issue of the withdrawal of terrorist and hateful content remains,” he wrote on the platform.

France had introduced the laws in December requiring political campaigns to declare who funded them and reveal how much they cost.

The campaign saw the government seeking to pay for sponsored tweets to promote its #OuiJeVote (Yes, I Vote) campaign to encourage voters to register for the European elections ahead of the deadline.

Twitter had initially said it was unable to adhere to the law if it permitted the campaign but on Thursday in three separate tweets it backtracked on its decision.

A spokesperson for Twitter told The National: “Promoting and protecting the integrity of #EUelection2019 is a core part of our mission for the next few months. That includes encouraging voter participation.

“Following enactment of the “Manipulation de l’information” law, we decided to prohibit all issue based advertising targeting France, which included Get Out The Vote type campaigns. Following consideration, we have now decided to allow campaigns aimed at encouraging voter participation.

“We are pleased to make this clarification and will continue to promote and protect the integrity of the #EUelection2019 conversations in the coming months.”

The French government’s information service had argued that the adverts were public information messages and should not be considered to be "from a political or party campaign".

Prior to the ban being lifted it said: "It's not that the law has backfired, it's the host that has not complied with it."

The issue was due to be discussed on Thursday with Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon at a two day G7 meeting of Interior Ministers in Paris.

Meanwhile a new report found far right posts are generating more than 10 per cent of the content being viewed by voters ahead of next month’s elections in France and elsewhere.

Research by Alto Analytics has found that these posts are being generated by less than 0.1 per cent of users but alarmingly are responsible for 11 per cent of content.

The group has been assessing data emanating from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain since December in a bid to identify fake news campaigns.

In its research into France it identified that 280 users with abnormal activity were created 81 posts a day and over a three month period generated 824,530 pieces of content.

It comes after France introduced new laws in December requiring political campaigns to declare who funded them and reveal how much they cost in a bit to crackdown on fake news.