Brigitte Macron, the wife of the French president, has launched legal action over a conspiracy theory that claims she was born male.
The virulent fake news dates back to March but has spread over social media over the past two months. It claims Brigitte Macron, who has three children from a first marriage, was born Jean-Michel Trogneux.
Her lawyer, Jean Ennochi, confirmed to AFP earlier this week that "she has decided to initiate proceedings, it is underway."
The fake news appears to have been first published and propagated by "Natasha Rey" on Facebook. The page of this self-described "journalist" is full of conspiracy theories and diatribes against the "health dictatorship".
She backed her reporting on family photos and supposed civil status documents.
The conspiracy theory really gained traction in mid-October following the publication of an article on the supposed "Brigitte Macron mystery" in "Faits et documents", a magazine founded in 1996 by far-right figure, Emmanuel Ratier, who had, at the time of his death in 2015, received a hearty eulogy from Jean-Marie Le Pen.
"Natasha Rey" is once again part of the investigation.
The hashtag #JeanMichelTrogneux appeared for the first time on Twitter on November 1 — nearly two weeks after the article's publication — before being relayed by a relatively confidential account (531 subscribers), "Le Journal de la Macronie", resolutely opposed to the head of state, according to the data analysis tool InVid We Verify developed for AFP.
For nearly a month, the hashtag remained largely under the radar before experiencing a spectacular surge in popularity from early December.
According to InVid's latest count, the hashtag has so far generated 68,300 retweets and over 174,000 likes. Some of the posts relaying the fake news often come with messages hostile to the head of state, but some also come from people who, conversely, denounce its dissemination and popularisation.
Its main promoters appear to emanate from a very heterogeneous movement rallying conspiracists, COVID-skeptics or claiming to be part of the "French sovereignist" current.
According to InVid, the Twitter account that posted the most messages on this fake news is held by a "Frexit" supporter, while the most retweeted user runs an online media denouncing the "propaganda" around the Omicron variant.
This is not the first time that the Macron couple has been targeted by rumours mixing gender and sexual orientation. During the 2017 presidential campaign, Emmanuel Macron had to deny allegations that he is gay.
Transphobic infomercials are not a new phenomenon. Several female politicians have already been subjected to them, such as former US First Lady Michelle Obama, current US Vice President Kamala Harris and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The strategies used to spread these rumours are often the same: misleading interpretation based on photos zoomed in on different parts of the body, and the invention of a hidden history