More elections. More hacking. The same headlines with slightly different words. This time it’s in France. This time the “victim” is Emmanuel Macron. The “outsider”, “independent” candidate, a man who completely unexpectedly rose to political prominence on the back of nothing more than a career in high-finance and a platform of telling rich people exactly what they wanted to hear.
So what questions does this new hack raise?
Firstly, what do we know?
So far, not much. The information itself may well be meaningless. Like so many leaks, dumps and hacks there is a glut of data…plus it is all in French, so most UK/US based alternate media will have to be patient with translations. Scanning through it is like panning for gold. It will take dedicated internet users months to sift it all…and in the end there may be no nuggets at all, just a bunch of mud.
Perhaps a more interesting question is – “why now?”
The “hack” (as it is being called, historically speaking it is far more likely a “leak”), was first mentioned weeks ago. The Macron campaign jumped on the Clinton bandwagon to denounce “interference” in French democracy. If this data is a result of that hack…why the large delay?
There’s really only three answers for that – either it wasn’t that hack that got this information. It was that hack, but it took weeks to de-encrypt it all. Or…it was deliberately timed. Given that this is the weekend of the election, during the 48 hour period before polling when French law bans campaigning, you have to imagine it was the latter option.
So why during the silent two days?
The mainstream argument is that it gives Macron no time to respond to any of the revelations, and thus does damage to his image without granting him a right of reply.
On the other hand, there is so much data that there will be barely enough time to read any of it before the polls open tomorrow. And, of course, if Macron can’t defend himself then La Pen can’t attack him. This info could have done her a world of good if it had been released prior to the TV debate last week.
There is weight on both sides of that argument.
What has the response been?
It went viral pretty quickly across the usual channels. There were hashtags, it was all over 4chan. The kind of places you’d expect.
The mainstream media haven’t mentioned it much – except to say it happened. The French government sent out letters telling French media not to publish any of the hacked e-mails under threat of prosecution.The reason given?
…in order not to alter the integrity of the vote…”
Yes, the press publishing information that might change voters’ minds undermines the vote’s integrity. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, of course. All that matters is that WE shouldn’t have it, so we have to act like we don’t. Knowing a politicians secrets is bad form, after all.
That’s how far we’ve come, the press are being actively prevented from publishing information that could impact an election because it “might be mixed with false information”. Not IS false information, you understand. So far none of it has been shown to be false at all. No, it just “might” be “mixed with” false information.
It’s important to point out that this government letter forbidding the publishing of hacked information is not a secret. It’s everywhere. They are flaunting it in our faces that the government can call the shots of the press, and the press will happily oblige.
In that way it offers an interesting test – how will the public react to flagrant and undeniable control of the media by the state? Maybe that’s what it was for. Just an elaborate experiment.
What impact will it have?
On the election result? Probably none. It happened very late in the game. Granted, a year of Brexit and Trump have made predicting elections harder than it used to be. But the Macron camp has all the backing it needs to win it at a canter, and all the money they need to fix it…should they have to. Granted, all that was also said about the US election last autumn, but – for all his numerous faults – Macron is nothing like the disaster of a candidate that Clinton was. That is, obviously, not saying much.
The real impact of this may not be felt ’til after the election, when a newly empowered “liberal” President turns his gaze on the “disinformation” and “fake news” that almost “subverted French democracy”.
Macron has already banned RT and Sputnik from covering his campaign, and has accused both outlets of various things…for which he is currently being sued. He may well move to expel them from the country entirely. And that would set a terrible precedent.
The stage is set for an all-out attack on alternate news sources, in the name of protecting liberty, equality and fraternity.
So…who did it then?
Well…the Russians, obviously. I mean, there’s no evidence of that yet, but who else would want Le Pen to win? Except, you know, a few million French people. WikiLeaks have helpfully pointed out that some of the metadata has cyrillic characters. The cyber equivalent of having snow on your boots.
At this point it could have been anyone.
It could be an actual hack carried out by real Le Pen followers in the hope of swinging the election.
It could be an actual hack carried out by fake Le Pen followers in order to make her look bad and swing the vote to Macron.
It could be a completely contrived PR exercise conceived by Macron’s campaign in order to make the French people fear their democracy is under attack, and jump on the “Russian hackers” bandwagon.
It could be a real attack, carried out by GCHQ or the CIA in order to implicate Russia and lend credence to the (frankly absurd) “Russia got Trump elected” meme.
It could simply be a handy media distraction to keep people talking about a non-issue as the peace process in Syria finds some small measure of success.
It could be a planted “fake news” story intended to undermine the image of “alternate media” and allow the government to crackdown on
freedom of speech dangerous misinformation.
It could be the work of bored and disillusioned millennial hackers who just want to stir the pot.
It could be some hellish mix of all of the above.
Who the hell even knows anymore.