You should be rightly suspicious of that 11th hour French election hack

Last night the European news agencies erupted with a story coming out of this weekend’s elections in France which more than a few people had suspected might be brewing. Shortly before midnight local time, a large scale hack of presidential candidate Emanuel Macron’s email accounts and records was posted online. It included emails and campaign finance records, some of them hinting at secret bank accounts and all the same sort of dirt you’d expect in a nasty, hard fought election. (Associated Press)

All that can be said with much certainty is that shortly before midnight French time, someone on 4chan — a message board known for, among other things, elaborate hoaxes and political extremism — posted links to a large set of data purportedly taken from the campaign of Emmanuel Macron, the youthful centrist politician who is tipped to beat far-right politician Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election Sunday. Macron’s campaign swiftly confirmed that several officials had had their email inboxes pillaged and that at least some of the messages, financial data, and book keeping published to the internet was genuine.

The timing of the leak could be seen either as idiotic or inspired.

French election monitors are now looking into the hack but it’s unclear how much of the information is real or whether it will have any effect on the race. As to the veracity of the documents, Macron is saying that he was definitely hacked and some of the documents are genuine, but others are fake. We probably won’t know which are which for some time.

But the French won’t be hearing much about it from local news outlets in any event. They have a rather strange law which forbids the media from covering the election after midnight on Friday and discussion of the race anywhere is discouraged while people are voting. Of course, this being the 21st century and all, people are no doubt getting all the news related to this from international outlets on their phones and other devices.

This event is raising all sorts of questions and drawing comparisons to the American elections last year. Is it real? Were the Russians involved? Who was this designed to help? The last one is easy, since it would only benefit Marine Le Pen. And if the Russians are indeed behind it (there’s absolutely no proof of that at this point or even a definitive lead suggesting so) then it would fit in with a pattern we’ve seen before. Le Pen has been on friendlier terms with Putin than the leaders of other parties in her nation.

Here’s a good rule of thumb which should apply in France as well as it does in America. When some huge, shocking story breaks out at the eleventh hour just before the end of a campaign, be suspicious. That’s not to say that the entire thing can’t be real, but it’s obviously designed to deliver maximum impact in such a short window of time that the hacking victim won’t have time to fully respond, the accusations can’t be fully investigated and the voters will have the story as the last thing on their mind before going to the polls. It’s all too convenient and we’ve seen similar tactics used in the United States in the past.

Would it be enough to turn the tide? We still don’t know and it all depends on how accurate the European polling models are. If they are anywhere close, as 538 pointed out yesterday, Le Pen is one gargantuan polling error away from victory. But it would have to be massive. Macron is sitting on what appears to be a more than 20 point lead. Even if this is one of the most jaw dropping polling flubs of the 21st century he should still win by at least five.

We’ll know soon enough. French ex-pats are voting today and the domestic voting unfolds tomorrow. By the evening we’ll know if Marine Le Pen was a flash in the pan or is destined to be the next president. And if she somehow wins, this last minute e-mail hack will no doubt be consuming her news cycles for months to come.