Propaganda, political indoctrination, fake news and the creation of hoaxes are as old as the coexistence of politics and news, but their ability to multiply with the use of tools as powerful as social media alongside almost universal access to the internet have converted them into weapons of mass influence. Ensuring that we are aware of this and analyzing methods to counteract their effect are necessary steps, especially in the wake of the impact of fake news stories on the electoral campaign in the United States and given attempts to use these weapons in France, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as in Spain via the conflict with Catalan separatists. To this end, as President Macron in France has announced, specific legislation is required to combat the systematic propagation of media indoctrination with political ends. It is essential, however, that we undertake this debate with caution, given that we are dealing with the limits of freedom of information.
Macron proposes handing media regulators powers to ensure that television broadcasters controlled by foreign states do not destabilize the country – a measure clearly aimed at putting the brakes on RT, which was recently given a license to operate in France. He also suggests more transparency over sponsored content and measures aimed at streamlining enforcement of judicial decisions aimed at blocking fake news stories during election campaigns.
Macron’s response in the face of an issue that is of growing concern to democracies requires careful analysis. Indoctrination is not necessarily worse if generated by a foreign nation than when home-grown. Information published by media outlets must fall in line with codes of conduct and comply with the law, while the control of information cannot be carried out by bodies that limit freedom of expression. Within these limits, it goes without saying that states have the right to defend democracy in the face of modern attacks based on hoaxes.
English version by George Mills.