News Brief

French Anti-Abortion Activists Target Young with Disinformation

In a nation where around 75% of the country believes abortion should be legal, what does a group opposed to the practice do to change that perception? In France, the leader of a leading anti-abortion organization says the answer is “digital and cultural tactics.”

For women’s rights activists and democracy campaigners, these campaigns, which include building a sham online website of one of France’s earliest abortion rights pioneers to falsely rewrite her history, have become the latest example of how disinformation campaigns are building more support for conservative political movements in Europe, according to Open Democracy.

The French anti-abortion group Les Survivants is well-connected to similar organizations active all over Europe — especially in Italy and in Ireland where social media campaigns targeted the 2018 Ireland’s abortion referendum. The group’s leader Emile Duport, told an Open Democracy reporter that Les Survivants is supported by “some private donations” and not these organizations. He calls himself and his supporters humanitarians. “It is like ecology for us. We try to give a higher meaning,” he said.

Eloïse Malcourant from Belgium’s Federation of Family Planning Centres says she believes Les Survivants demonstrate how conservative movements in Europe have become more popular by employing digital tactics to reach younger voters. They “are at the cutting edge of technology, and currently the pro-choice movements are struggling a bit to develop that type of support,” she told Open Democracy.

In Russia, conservative politicians have seized on their power within government to change policies towards abortions, making it difficult even for women with health concerns to have a choice about their pregnancies.

A few years ago, Les Survivants had little public recognition in France. Then their video game “Save Pikachu” went viral. In the game, players get pregnant, and then choose whether or not to “interrupt the hatching of the egg.”

In another campaign in 2017, Les Survivants launched a website that resembled the official website of French feminist Simone Veil shortly after her death in June that year. On that fake site, a short video appears in which Veil says she regretted her pro-choice views — something that never happened. Veil is consider a crusader among French feminists for her fight to legalize abortion in France.

Internal documents from Les Survivants published in a French documentary on abortion allegedly reveals the group’s acknowledgement that some misinformation and manipulation is necessary to spread the reach of their movement.

“The target must think they are on a website of young people who will not judge them or tell them what to do even if, in fact, this is what we seek to do,” according to one such document.