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, with automated bots and the Twitter account of WikiLeaks also propelling a leak that came two days before France’s presidential vote.
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 recalled 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.
It also renewed questions whether social media companies have done enough to limit fake accounts or spammed content on their platforms and how media organizations should report on hacked information.
Twitter declined to comment on whether it had taken any specific action in response to the Macron leak. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
Analysis conducted by The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab published on Saturday found that the hashtag #MacronLeaks reached 47,000 tweets in three and a half hours after it was first used by Jack Posobiec, a writer in Washington for the far-right news organization The Rebel. Posobiec’s online biography said he coordinated grassroots organizing for a group that supported U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Posobiec’s initial tweet on the Macron documents was retweeted fifteen times within one minute and 87 times in five minutes, Atlantic Council senior fellow Ben Nimmo wrote in a blog published on Medium.
Posobiec is prolific on Twitter, where he has a large following of more than 100,000 accounts. Contacted by Reuters, Posobiec said he did not operate bots and that he used his account to share a post he saw on 4chan.
Bots helped move the hashtag from the United States to France, according to Nimmo, where surveys show far-right leader Marine Le Pen trailing Macron by more than 20 points heading into Sunday’s election.
French electoral law forbids candidates from commenting during Saturday and until polling stations close on Sunday.
WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published hacked emails belonging to Democrats during the 2016 presidential election, provided the largest boost of attention on Twitter to the Macron emails, Nimmo said.
The group did not publish the information itself but tweeted about the leak at least 15 times.
“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.”
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Some researchers also observed the use of identical phrasing in blogs about the leaks, which they alleged was aimed at driving Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google search result rankings. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
About nine gigabytes of data purporting to be documents from the Macron campaign were posted on Pastebin, a site that allows anonymous document sharing.
Other recent high-profile political leaks, including those during the U.S. presidential election, have often been dumped by WikiLeaks, which has a sizeable online following and international recognition.