French newspaper suspends journalists over sexist posts

Two journalists who were part of an online “boys club” that allegedly harassed mainly female journalists, writers and activists for almost a decade have been suspended from left-leaning French daily newspaper Libération.

The “Ligue du LOL” (“League of LOL”) private Facebook group was created in 2009 by Vincent Glad, a freelance journalist who worked for Libération, taking its name from an acronym meaning “laugh out loud”. Since then the group has allegedly created a toxic online atmosphere of racism, sexist insults and harassment, which was often spread anonymously on social media.

Mr Glad and Alexandre Hervaud, Libération’s online editor, were suspended this week after the newspaper’s fact-checking service uncovered the group’s existence. David Doucet, the web editor-in-chief of Les Inrockuptibles, a high-profile music and culture magazine, along with a second journalist from the publication were also suspended.

“Shameful,” wrote Liberation’s editor-in-chief Laurent Joffrin in an editorial on Tuesday. “The treatment inflicted on numerous young women or young men by a certain informal group known as League of LOL makes you feel sick. Harassment, insults, cruel hoaxes, a whole array of digital attacks were used by this group.”

The men were suspended after several victims, including some female journalists, publicly accused the Ligue du LOL’s members of cyberbullying. The accusations surfaced a year after the #MeToo campaign and its French version, #Balancetonporc, or “expose your pig”, encouraged victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape to come forward.

Science presenter Florence Porcel said that she had been targeted by the Ligue du LOL. Ms Porcel wrote on Twitter that she received a telephone call from a man posing as an editor of a “prominent” news programme. She was interviewed for a non-existent job and then the audio of their conversation was publicly posted. “When the recording was made public, I cried of shame for three days,” Ms Porcel said.

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Emmanuel Macron has hailed the fight for gender equality as the grande cause nationale of his presidency and in August lawmakers passed a sexual harassment bill that included fines for sexual harassment on the street. France is also trying to toughen rules on hate speech to ensure that social media companies do more to remove racist and anti-Semitic content from the internet.

In a lengthy apology that he published on Twitter, Mr Glad said that when he created the group in 2009, “the goal of this group was not to harass women. Only to have fun. But quickly, our way of having fun became very problematic and we did not realise it.”

Mr Glad, who came to prominence covering the gilets jaunes protests that have rocked the French government since November, added: “I offer my sincerest apologies to those harassed by the lol league. What happened is in no way tolerable.”

Mr Hervaud also apologised on Twitter, saying that “the group’s constant spirit of mockery and cynicism clearly influenced the actions of some of its more borderline members, especially under anonymity, which snowballed and inspired others.”

Mr Doucet wrote on Twitter that he was a member of Ligue du LOL for two years but left the group six years ago. “In the small world that was then Twitter, I saw that certain people were regularly targeted but I never guessed the depth of the trauma suffered,” he said.

Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s minister for digital affairs, said on BFM TV on Sunday that the Ligue du LOL “is the story of losers, guys who were bursting to make fun of other people. Except that this mockery had an impact on the real world. The victims of cyber harassment must be able to express themselves, and . . . I hope they are ashamed.”

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