French election

US far-right activists 'helped amplify e-mail leak'

Mr Emmanuel Macron was elected French president on May 7, 2017.
Mr Emmanuel Macron was elected French president on May 7, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • US far-right activists helped to amplify a leak of hacked e-mails belonging to leading French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign, some researchers said, with automated bots and the Twitter account of WikiLeaks also propelling last Friday's leak.

The rapid spread on Twitter, Facebook and messaging forum 4chan of e-mails and other campaign documents that Mr Macron's campaign said had been stolen recalled the effort by right-wing activists and Russian state media to promote hacked documents embarrassing to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last year.

It also renewed questions of whether social media companies have done enough to limit fake accounts or spammed content on their platforms.

Analysis done by The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab and published last Saturday found that the hashtag, #MacronLeaks, reached 47,000 tweets in 31/2 hours after it was first used by Mr Jack Posobiec, a writer in Washington for far-right news organisation The Rebel. His online biography said he coordinated grassroots organising for a group that supported US President Donald Trump's campaign.

Mr Posobiec's initial tweet on the Macron documents was retweeted 15 times within one minute and 87 times in five minutes, Atlantic Council senior fellow Ben Nimmo wrote in a blog published on Medium.

Mr Posobiec, who has a large following of more than 100,000 accounts on Twitter, told Reuters he did not operate bots and that he used his account to share a post he saw on 4chan.

Mr Nimmo said bots helped move the hashtag from the US to France, where surveys showed far-right leader Marine Le Pen trailing Mr Macron by more than 20 points heading into yesterday's election. French electoral law forbids candidates from commenting on the eve of election and until polling stations close.

WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published hacked e-mails belonging to Democrats during last year's election, provided the largest boost of attention on Twitter to the Macron e-mails, Mr Nimmo said. It tweeted about the leak at least 15 times.

About 9GB of data purporting to be documents from the Macron campaign were posted on Pastebin, a site that allows anonymous document sharing.

"There is a noticeable lack of a persona taking credit for this," said Mr John Hultquist, a cyber researcher at FireEye.

US cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint said late on Friday that an initial review indicated that APT 28, a group tied to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence unit, may be behind the leaks, though evidence was not yet conclusive.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'US far-right activists 'helped amplify e-mail leak''. Print Edition | Subscribe