France says bedbug panic amplified by Russian disinformation campaign

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The panic that gripped France in autumn 2023 over the alleged spread of bed bugs was amplified by disinformation on social media accounts linked to the Russian state, a French minister said Friday.

The comments by Europe Minister Jean-Noel Barrot followed growing warnings from France about the dangers of Russian disinformation particularly aimed at undermining support for Ukraine as it fights the invasion.

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“The issue of bedbugs was artificially amplified on social networks by accounts that have been established to be of Russian inspiration or origin,” he told TF1 television.

“It was very largely amplified by accounts linked to the Kremlin,” he added.

Media had reported that French intelligence services concluded there was a link between Russia and the bedbug panic, but this is the first time a French minister has confirmed it in public.

Barrot said the social media accounts had even created a “false link between the arrival of Ukrainian refugees and the spread of the bedbugs.”

In October, France shut several schools over what was thought to be an infestation of bedbugs as the government held a series of emergency meetings.

The blood-sucking insects were reportedly spotted in the Paris metro, high-speed TGV trains and at Paris’s Charles De Gaulle Airport.

Authorities became increasingly concerned over what they considered an unfounded panic that grabbed headlines around the world ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Barrot pointed to other such campaigns such as the daubing of anti-Semitic graffiti in Paris and other cities and a fake news report, falsely attributed to television channel France 24, that President Emmanuel Macron had postponed a trip to Ukraine for security reasons.

Macron in 2021 created a new agency called Viginum mandated to detect digital disinformation campaigns.

Viginum said last month it had identified a network dubbed “Portal Kombat” of dozens of Russian-origin websites aimed at destabilizing public opinion in France and Europe.

Officials are concerned about a potential rise in disinformation campaigns ahead of June European elections where the far right -- generally seen in Europe as being more sympathetic towards Russia -- are eyeing significant gains.

Also read: France determined to stamp out bed bugs resurgence before Paris Olympics

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