"Emmanuel Macron, Saudi Arabia's choice of candidate in the French presidential election" declaimed an article [link in French] that was shared on Twitter on Wednesday March 2 by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, an MP and niece of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Except that she fell hook, line and sinker for a perfect example of fake news. The web page is actually a perfect copy of the Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir — with a different URL.
The editorial team at French newspaper Libération were the first to call attention to the story. They are one of the many partners of FRANCE 24's Observers team on the CrossCheck project, a joint initiative by a number of international news outlets in the fight against the proliferation of fake news.
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen wrote on Twitter, "30% of Macron's campaign funded by Saudi Arabia? We demand transparency!" According to the article [link in French] published on the site lesoir.info, made to look like a wire story from French news agency Agence France-Presse, this information came from a tip given by a member of Belgium's socialist party.
The politician's tweet was shared over 200 times in the space of a few minutes, before being picked up by Twitter accounts supporting Marine Le Pen and the right-wing candidate François Fillon, as well as French alt-right and nationalist website Fdesouche.
Here's the catch: the news article doesn't come from Agence France-Presse — and that's not Le Soir's website.
The website lesoir.info is a clone of the Belgian newspaper's website, which has the URL lesoir.be. The clone uses exactly the same font, design, and page layout as the real newspaper, making it impossible to spot that it's not the real thing at first glance. However, if you click on any of the links on the page, you will be redirected automatically to the newspaper's real site.
The domain for the clone site lesoir.info is owned by someone called "Donald Thomas", who lives in Delaware in the United States.
As for Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, she eventually cottoned on and deleted her tweet half an hour after it was published. Website Fdesouche took their article down soon afterwards.
Meanwhile, the real Le Soir clarified on its website and in a tweet that it had never published the news story.