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EDITORIAL

Biggest loser in French election? Tech companies

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron celebrated Sunday in Paris.
Supporters of Emmanuel Macron celebrated Sunday in Paris.(ERIC FEFERBERG/afp/getty images)

THE LAST-MINUTE HACKING and social-media campaign against Emmanuel Macron may have failed to stop his victory in Sunday’s French elections, but it did expose how little tech companies have improved since their failures during the US election last year. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have allowed themselves to become platforms for misinformation, rumors, and manipulation by Russian (and presumably other) intelligence services. Whatever Silicon Valley is doing to raise standards, it’s not working yet.

In the final hours of the campaign, Macron fell victim to a flurry of social media attacks allegedly based on hacked documents. Although French media outlets largely avoided reporting on the files, American social-media titans showed no such restraint. On Twitter, hashtag campaigns directed at Macron based on the hacks crested on Friday night. The campaign against Macron seems to be linked to Russian operatives and right-wing American activists, and included a mix of genuine documents and fakes purportedly related to his personal finances.

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Luckily, the attacks didn’t seem to matter: As polls predicted, the centrist Macron defeated the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, in a landslide of more than 20 points. Most other European leaders breathed a sigh of relief as the results came in, since the 39-year-old Macron is a strong supporter of the beleaguered European Union. Although President Trump tacitly supported Le Pen, there’s no doubt that Macron’s victory is also good news for the United States.

Historically, Silicon Valley companies were reluctant to accept the responsibilities of publishers, clinging instead to the notion that social-media sites were mere platforms for users. But after Trump’s election last year, aided by Russian hacks and fake news circulated online, tech giants promised to do a better job policing the content on their sites. “While the percentage of misinformation is relatively small, we have much more work ahead on our road map,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in November.

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Clearly, though, there’s still work ahead. A pivotal German election is scheduled for later this year. Will Silicon Valley be ready this time?