France yesterday suffered what might be called a bad web day. A pirate internet site, looking for all the world like the official Foreign Ministry site, began bombarding the world with bogus declarations and announcements.
At the same time a long-awaited official site, which is supposed to present a can-do image of France to investors and tourists, collapsed on its first day. The French foreign ministry announced that – if it could find them – it would take legal action against the web pirates who have created an elaborate clone of official French diplomacy on the internet.
The bogus site, www.diplomatiegov.fr, or France Diplo TV, has stolen the logo and style and many of the video contents of the official site, www.diplomatie.gouv.fr. It has also added a series of diplomatic initiatives that never were, including a purported decision by Paris to repay the "90 million gold francs" which Haiti paid France in post-independence reparations from 1825 to 1947. The lead video item on the hoax site yesterday was a film of a young, pompous woman in spectacles, sitting in front of French and EU flags.
In a convincing tone, she announces that the Haitian debt payments will be "reimbursed in a yearly budget over the course of 50 years.... The total sum amounts to €17bn including adjustments for inflation and a minimal interest rate of 5 per cent per annum". Bernard Valero, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the site was a mixture of "false information and fraudulent copies" from official French and European sites. "We are studying what legal action we might take," he said.
The government information service, Sig, has the opposite problem: after months of preparations, a new, multilingual "shop window" for France – France.fr – was supposed to be launched on the evening of 14 July, France's national day.
After a series of malfunctions, including a jumbling of English- and French-language texts, the site was closed down indefinitely yesterday. A spokesman blamed the faulty loading of databases.
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