French 'yellow vest' fake news gets 100 million Facebook hits

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Paris (AFP) - Fake news circulating within the French "yellow vest" protest movement has been viewed more than 100 million times on Facebook, according to a study published Wednesday.

The US-based Avaaz human rights and climate change campaign site tracked the 100 most viral pieces of fake news that circulated on Facebook accounts linked to the movement over the last four months.

It said the stories which were identified as false by traditional media outlets were seen more than 105 million times and shared four million times.

These included photos of bloodied "yellow vests" protesters apparently beaten up by French riot police which AFP's Fact Check service proved were taken in Spain during the Catalan crisis last year.

The pictures were viewed 3.5 million times.

A video which went viral in November with 5.7 million views -- and which is still online -- shows French President Emmanuel Macron dancing to oriental music "while France suffers".

The clip had actually been shot a month before at a summit of francophone countries in Armenia.

A third deliberate distortion quoted by Avaaz was an appeal to share "en masse" a photo of a "yellow vest" demonstration on the Champs Elysee in Paris, which the poster claimed had been censored by Facebook.

- Russia's RT 'most viewed' -

The French daily Le Monde showed that social network had never cut the image.

Avaaz claimed that Russian state television network RT has used the movement to expand its audience in France.

Analysis of the first 500 YouTube search results on the "yellow vest" movement showed that RT was by far the most viewed outlet, outstripping the combined results of several major French media outlets.

Last month Avaaz launched a "Correct the record" petition targeting Facebook and Twitter in particular, demanding that they show "effective corrections" of fake news on their networks and inform people who have viewed them.

AFP has a fact-checking deal with Facebook to verify and debunk fake news being spread online, with articles published on AFP's Fact Check blog then flagged up by Facebook to its users.

The network has come in for heavy criticism for not doing enough to stop the spread of fake news.

The "yellow vests" have become France's longest lasting anti-government street protest in more than a decade.

What began as a protest against a rise in fuel prices in November, quickly morphed into a broader revolt against the "elite" and Macron's economic policies.