Can a democratic country outlaw fake news? France is about to find out, after President Emmanuel Macron ordered a law to quash false information disseminated around electoral campaigns. Criticism is pouring in from media advocates, tech experts—and Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT. They say the law smacks of authoritarianism, will be impossible to enforce, and is sure to backfire. Macron's stance "could be just the beginning of actually censoring freedom of speech. We believe it is a very dangerous situation," Xenia Fedorova, director of RT's newly launched French-language channel, told the AP. While democracies usually rely on defamation and libel laws to combat false publications, Macron wants more.
In a New Year's speech to journalists, Macron said he's ordering a new "legal arsenal" that would oblige news sites to reveal who owns them and where their money comes from. It could cap the money allowed for content seen as aimed at swaying an election and allow emergency legal action to block websites. The French broadcast regulator's power would expand to allow it to suspend media seen as trying to destabilize a vote—notably those "controlled or influenced by foreign powers." Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which has decried fake news, is nevertheless wary of Macron's order. "Probably our democracies have to be defended in front of the fake news wave," the group's chief, Christophe Deloire, said, but not "with the ways that despotic countries use."