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The French Press and Google France: a New Ministry of Propaganda?

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The French Press and Google France: a New Ministry of Propaganda?

A joint project called “Objectif Désinfox,” has just been launched in France. In the run-up to the French presidential elections in the spring of 2022, the Agence France-Presse (AFP—France’s main news agency) and Google France announced on Monday, December 5th, an alliance within French media to fight against disinformation. It will be a training and collaboration program for journalists of the French press, financed by Google.

The program is planned to be deployed through several steps. First, all reporters will have to pass through online training. Following that, they will be required to access a common platform with an integrated system for reporting fake news. Next, news sources will provide a bank of contents authorized by AFP. Then, journalists will be expected to attend occasional thematic meetings with external speakers and experts associated with a support program for the newsrooms taking part in the deal.

Lastly, a project label, “Objectif Désinfox,” will be affixed to all the news and media that have passed through this process as a way for the public to identify at first sight what is ‘correct’ and what is not. AFP’s CEO Fabrice Fries defends the program in these terms: “The media coalition aims to weld the ranks of those involved in the fight against disinformation in the run-up to the presidential election.” 

This is not the first time that GAFAs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) have shown their willingness to engage in the field of information control. In 2018, the daily Le Monde had revealed its partnership with Facebook for its fact-checking unit called “Les Décodeurs.” Le Monde has also acknowledged being paid by Facebook for this work since 2017, all the while claiming to keep its distance. This is wishful thinking, since in terms of editorial freedom, Le Monde has delegated responsibility for the dissemination of information to an algorithm over which its journalists have no control. 

The implementation of novel, systematized news practices on the occasion of an event as sensitive as the presidential election naturally raises serious questions in terms of journalistic ethics. The ideological bias of GAFA is no secret, and it is a safe bet that the program to fight fake news will quickly devolve into a system of opinion control through the selection of authorized information. The battle of social networks and their submission to censorship tools had been one of the key elements of the campaign for the American presidential elections of 2020. It is worrying to see the same mechanisms being reproduced in the French elections. The organization of a united media front is not in itself progress. The temptation to standardize news, with the broadcasting of a single source of information, takes us directly back to the experiences of state propaganda systems—the difference being, this time, that propaganda is in the hands of private companies such as GAFA and no longer in the hands of states. 

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