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Researchers Say Macron Leaks Were Amplified With The Help Of U.S. Far-Right Activists, Wikileaks And Bots

Researchers Say Macron Leaks Were Amplified With The Help Of U.S. Far-Right Activists, Wikileaks And Bots
With automated bots and the Twitter account of WikiLeaks also propelling a leak that came two days before France's presidential vote, U.S. far-right activists helped amplify a leak of hacked emails belonging to leading French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign, some researchers said on Saturday.
The effort by right-wing activists and Russian state media to promote hacked documents embarrassing to Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last year was recalled by the rapid spread on Twitter, Facebook and the messaging forum 4chan of emails and other campaign documents that Macron's campaign said on Friday had been stolen.
Questions about how media organizations should report on hacked information and whether social media companies have done enough to limit fake accounts or spammed content on their platforms have also been raised by the incident.
After it was first used by Jack Posobiec, a writer in Washington for the far-right news organization The Rebel, the hashtag #MacronLeaks reached 47,000 tweets in three and a half hours, analysis conducted by The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab published on Saturday found. For a group that supported U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign, he coordinated grassroots organizing, Posobiec's online biography said.
Atlantic Council senior fellow Ben Nimmo wrote in a blog published on Medium that Posobiec's initial tweet on the Macron documents was retweeted fifteen times within one minute and 87 times in five minutes.
With a large following of more than 100,000 accounts, Posobiec is prolific on Twitter. he did not operate bots and that he used his account to share a post he saw on 4chan, said Posobiec when contacted by Reuters.
Surveys showed that in France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen trailing Macron by more than 20 points heading into Sunday's election and according to Nimmo, bots helped move the hashtag from the United States to France.
Nimmo said that the largest boost of attention on Twitter to the Macron emails was provided by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published hacked emails belonging to Democrats during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The group tweeted about the leak at least 15 times but did not publish the information itself.
"As the dominant publication in the field we were hours ahead of all other major outlets," WikiLeaks said in a private Twitter message to a Reuters reporter. "That's what our readers expect."
Aimed at driving Alphabet Inc's Google search result rankings, the use of identical phrasing in blogs about the leaks was also observed by some researchers. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pastebin, a site that allows anonymous document sharing, is the place where about nine gigabytes of data purporting to be documents from the Macron campaign were posted.
WikiLeaks, which has a sizeable online following and international recognition, has often dumped other recent high-profile political leaks, including those during the U.S. presidential election.
"There is a noticeable lack of a persona taking credit for this," said John Hultquist, a cyber researcher at FireEye, adding that such an absence made attribution more difficult.
Even though evidence was not yet conclusive, APT 28, a group tied to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence unit, may be behind the leak, said the U.S. cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint after an initial review of the Macron leaks. One of the leaked files had been modified by someone who works in the technology industry in Moscow, as was evident from the metadata contained in that file, the firm said.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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