The French Legislation against Digital Information Manipulation in Electoral Campaigns: A Scope Limited by Freedom of Expression

Irene Couzigou* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

As France is traditionally opposed to electronic voting, especially when used in general elections or national referendums, electoral interference could take the form of false information disseminated online. Indeed, misinformation may affect the honesty of electoral debates and influence voting behavior. This article first studies the electoral inferences that occurred in France, during the 2017 presidential campaign, and that targeted more particularly the future President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. It shows that the laws that existed at the time could only imperfectly counter disinformation spread in an online environment. This article then analyzes the new laws on the fight against the manipulation of information, adopted in reaction to the 2017 electoral interferences with the support of the President of Republic. It studies how those laws aim to react to manipulation of digital information before general elections and national referendums. A new judge sitting for urgent matters may order the suspension or suppression of limited digital false information. The French regulatory broadcasting agency may suspend, interrupt, or refuse broadcasting of false information by audio-visual media controlled or influenced by a foreign State. Its powers are however restrained by legal and political reasons. This article then studies how the new laws aim to prevent manipulation of digital information. They give to online platforms’ users more means to critically assess digital information and be less influenced by it. Thus, online platforms must be more transparent about the information they host, especially during electoral campaigns. Furthermore, information and media literacy are strengthened. Finally, this article concludes that the scope of the new legislation against the manipulation of information, constrained by the freedom of expression, remains modest. It argues that facilitating the detection of false information by platforms’ users is the way forward to diminish the impact of that information on electoral debates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-115
Number of pages18
JournalElection Law Journal
Volume20
Issue number1
Early online date17 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Keywords

  • campaigns and campaign finance
  • democratic theory
  • international and comparative

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