How do Fake News spread?

UNICEPTA reveals for the German weekly newspaper Die ZEIT, how a smear campaign can develop momentum, leaping across countries and different types of media.

Bad news travel fast and far. But how do Fake News spread in detail? For the first time, we can now track this in a concrete example: the claim that French presidential candidate Emanuel Macron is gay – one of the dominating issues in the French elections in the past weeks. How did it become an issue at all? UNICEPTA data, published in Die Zeit on Thursday, February 23, 2017, shows how it happened.

Rumors about Macron’s possible homosexuality have been around on the French-speaking internet since May 2016, but have not gained any real momentum. Until a conservative French member of parliament, Nicolas Dhuicq, gave an interview to the pro-Russian propaganda website Sputnik International on February 4, 2017. “He has a very wealthy gay lobby behind him. That says everything,” said Dhuicq on sputniknews.com. Everybody understood what he was trying to say: Macron is gay.

The graphs compiled using UNICEPTA’s analysis tool show how the news went viral after that and was referenced across all types of media.

The website itself has only a small audience, but within the following ten days, the article was spread around the world and that beyond digital media platforms. We can see the dissemination of the original article, as well as how the debate revolved around blogs, online media and posts on Twitter and Facebook, all referring to one-another.

Country borders were also crossed very quickly, but the largest dissemination of the link remains in France. If the goal was to indirectly influence the French elections, it was successful.

The entire debate on the matter is far wider in scope though because a significant number of posts do not refer to the original article on Sputnik International. In total, there were more than 17,000 posts that referred to the rumor. The debate saw a peak on February 7, three days after the original article. That was the day when presidential candidate Emanuel Macron issued a statement, and thereby changed the course of the debate. Now, the crucial question is who has started the rumor and whether the Russians are trying to influence the French elections.


UNICEPTA Medienanalyse GmbH is a leading global provider for smart media intelligence in innovations/digital consulting, media monitoring, media analysis and research/consulting. Around 700 experts continuously structure the news flow – both around the clock and around the world.  UNICEPTA compiles and presents highly relevant information from print and online media, TV, radio and social-media sources. This day-to-day work serves as a platform for the company to provide analysis and research-based advice for issues related to strategic communication.


Wolf-Dieter Rühl
UNICEPTA Medienanalyse GmbH
Head of Research Services
Salierring 47-53
50677 Köln

phone  0221 9902 110
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email    wolf.ruehl@unicepta.com
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