Trump Supporters Online Are Pretending To Be French To Manipulate France's Election
Welcome to "The Great Liberation Of France."
BuzzFeed News was recently given access to a chatroom called The Great Liberation of France, which is hosted on a Slack-like messaging platform called Discord.
The head of this particular Discord group is a user that goes by @trumpwin2016. BuzzFeed News has reached out to them for comment.
The large majority of the work being done in The Great Liberation of France is based around creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to manipulate French social media users.
Users in the Liberation chatroom want to create as much chaos on social media as possible to make right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and her supporters in the National Front (FN) seem like the most legitimate voice in French politics.
In screenshots provided to BuzzFeed News, as well as conversations BuzzFeed News observed in the chatroom, users are creating fake accounts for two reasons.
The chatroom's admins have instructed users to make fake Facebook accounts that are “ideally young, cute girl, gay, Jew, basically anyone who isn’t supposed to be pro-[FN].” Users are then instructed to lock down these dummy accounts so no one can tell they’re fake. Once they have their fake Facebook profiles, they're told to infiltrate the comment sections of large French Facebook pages and post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon, France's current frontrunner for the presidency.
And they're doing something similar on Twitter, creating dozens of French-appearing sock puppet accounts. They then collect all of them on lists and organize campaigns to make things trend in French.
They have a subsection of the chatroom just for listing their Twitter accounts so they know what all the fake accounts are doing.
The group has made it extremely easy for English-speakers to participate as well. They have a Google Doc labeled "MEGA GENERAL" — "Make Europe Great Again" — that they use for planning out social media campaigns.
The doc includes instructions for how users can help teach fellow right-wing trolls how to make memes that would be believable in their country. "You have to provide reconnaissance for us. WE DON'T KNOW SHIT about your internet segment," one section reads.
Another section reads, "Brief info on your country — does the South hate the North? Are those on the coast richer than those in the mountains?" It also mentions Pepe the Frog and other memes that Trump supporters latched on to, acknowledging each country might have different memes that take off.
The last section reads, "DO NOT launch a meme shell in a foreign language without checking with a national operative."
"Meme shells" are essentially just blank templates that anyone can load up with text. Members of the Discord group have centralized all of their memes in an easy-to-download database hosted on a site called Dropmark.
This allows trolls to appear French without actually needing to speak French.
Recently, in a sub-room called #Materials, a user started posting transparent cutouts of Fillon, a former prime minister who is the leading mainstream candidate to take on Marine Le Pen.
The group's swarms are fairly simple. Several times a week, someone will drop a link in the Discord chat, and people click over and attack the comments section.
Like this video of Florian Philippot, one of Le Pen's main advisers, talking to his supporters. They flooded it with pro-FN hashtags.
They do the same thing with hashtags. Here they are talking about the recent "white genocide" Twitter meme.
Aside from Twitter trends and Facebook comments, they also work closely with Reddit.
Users on Reddit usually end up posting the same targets, feeding into the swarm. The Philippot video appeared on /r/The_Europe shortly after it was listed in the Discord group.
/r/The_Europe is very well-connected to /r/The_Donald — Reddit's huge Donald Trump hub. The image below is r/The_Europe members warning each other about possibly compromised admins at r/The_Donald.
They believed admins from /r/The_Donald were blocking them from posting this video from Jan. 14, 2017, which appears to contain leaked audio from activists planning the "queer dance party" outside of Mike Pence's house.
The Great Liberation of France Discord group is part of a larger constellation of private rooms that will share links among one another.
For instance, during BuzzFeed News' time spent lurking in The Great Liberation of France, a user appeared and dropped a link to La Taverne des Patriotes, which is another pro-FN chatroom, but for French speakers.
Which has their own sections for organizing French social media campaigns.
The user who initially invited BuzzFeed News to The Great Liberation of France wished to remain anonymous and said he believes the Discord group is mostly made up of 4chan users.
"Immediately after the election, this dude coming from a bunch of [IP addresses] posts regular threads on 4chan, inviting people to join his little troll army to pull the next revolution in France," the anonymous user said. "The chat has been much quieter in weeks, but I suspect that's because they have moved more to private twitter chats."
The anonymous user said he also suspected that it wasn't just Americans and French people in the Discord group.
"Right now there is this loose sort of alliance between Russian neo-fascists like Alexander Dugin and the international alt-right," he said.
Which appears to be true — there have been several recent 4chan threads where users with American IP addresses are asking to learn about Alexander Dugin, a prominent fascist Russian political scientist. The anonymous user, however, was quick to not call what's happening among the international alt-right a conspiracy.
"The shared agenda is to get far right, pro-Russian politicians elected worldwide. It's not so much a conspiracy as it is a collaboration," the anonymous user said. "The alt-right sees the US as compromised and Russia as the good guys who will 'remove kebab' (kill Muslims)."
It's simply that they're learning from each other and figuring out how to spread their pro-fascist memes.
A second user, going by the user name @Das Krout, who identified himself as a 16-year-old from Minnesota, said he had seen no proof that the Discord group was communicating with Russian trolls.
"I've been here since its inception, we've had no Russians what so ever," he said. "A bunch of Americans. There are no Russian trolls. We are the trolls. We are just regular people who are fed up."
@Das Krout said he doesn't consider himself a white supremacist or neo-Nazi, but instead believes that people "have the right to preserve their genetic, racial, and cultural identity."
He said that his parents are aware he spends his time helping organize troll campaigns. "Oh, I'm quite open about most of my trolling," he said. "Most of my friends meme."
@Das Krout did echo what the other anonymous user said, however. He said that Discord groups like "The Great Liberation Of France" are forming fairly organically and largely because the users think it's fun and want to disrupt society.
"Meme campaigns are very loosely organized, but due to the speed of the Internet, it acts as a giant political machine. The pissing story your organization got trolled with was constructed within a matter of hours," @Das Krout said, referring to the belief among alt-right trolls that 4chan users fabricated the Trump dossier released earlier this month by BuzzFeed News.
"For years the 'political spectrum' has been normalizing further and further to the left. They call this 'progress'. We are attempting to bring politics back to a true center where people can decide for themselves," he said. "People don't like the establishment. The reason why Trump was elected is because they wanted chaos. They wanted to put a blender into the system. The National Front has literally been excluded from almost all coalitions across the board since its conception. It is the only true opposition. That's what people want. A challenge to the system."
@Das Krout also said that some of the members of his Discord group are attempting to meet in real life, but due to the secrecy of the members and amount of misinformation being spread, vetting true supporters is extensive.
"Some chats are very strict on entrance and thoroughly 'vet' people in order to verify their claimed identity," he said. "The one I'm referencing to is planning a meet up in the near future."
Discord's CEO Jason Citron recently told BuzzFeed News that he's somewhat ambivalent about the growing alt-right presence on the chat application.
“We’re very focused on making an amazing communication product for gamers,” Citron said. “I had a hunch that it would be used outside of gaming, but it wasn’t anything we thought specifically about.”
Discord is a chat- and voice-based application that has been growing in popularity among gamers and anime fans.
“Because we have such a large product, I think it’s inevitable that you have people who are misbehaving,” he said. “If something is important to us and it’s against the law, we act against it very quickly.”
“It’s inevitable that there will be actors using the product for things that are not completely wholesome,” he said.
The article has been updated to correctly identify François Fillon. A previous version of the article incorrectly said a meme cutout was of Florian Phillipot.