There are many parallels between the recent French and American presidential elections. Like Hillary Clinton, the French president Emmanuel Macron had his emails hacked. In addition, Macron ran against Marine Le Pen, France’s far-right candidate who is comparable to Donald Trump. However, one of the most striking differences in the two elections–besides the outcomes–is France’s election silence law.
Election silence prohibits the mention of the candidates by news outlets before a presidential election. The United States has no such law, but it is used in several European countries for the purpose of creating an unbiased voting environment in the final stretch of the race. France’s media blackout begins 44 hours before voting. However, social media sites are not silenced, making it nearly impossible to create a truly unbiased voting environment prior to voting day. While major news sources had little time to react to Macron’s leaked documents, average Twitter users were able to retweet them without constraint. This potentially creates an adverse effect in that the news that is available at the eleventh hour comes from unreliable sources on social media instead of trusted news outlets.
The French news media handled Macron’s leaked documents in a vastly different manner from how the American news media handled Clinton’s hacked emails. While there are many explanations as to why each country produced a different reaction to the hackings, it is possible that the election silence in France dampened the effect of Macron’s leaked documents. The Macron hacking was likely a tactic intended to destabilize the election and possibly tip the odds in favor of Le Pen. But because the documents were leaked so soon before the election, there was little time for the story to gain traction in France before the media blackout began.
While the French media election silence has its merits in attempting to reduce election bias, it comes in conflict with the ideals of free speech that Americans value dearly. The differing outcomes of the American and French presidential elections beg the question of whether it is better to have election silence or uninhibited election coverage. Certainly both have distinct implications. The announcement by former FBI director James Comey days before the U.S. election that the FBI was reopening an investigation into Clinton’s emails received a significant amount of backlash for its possible role in hindering the election of Hillary Clinton. We are left to speculate that if the United States had an election silence law, there might be a different president sitting in the Oval Office.