“I was able to chat on the phone with the founder of Cerfia, everything is settled. End of story”, decided the Twitter account “AlertsInfos”, Friday, June 30. Under the publication of the profile followed by nearly 300,000 people, the hope of an “octagon without rules” is dwindling among the hundreds and hundreds of Internet users who had suddenly seen two specialists in the recovery of information in line get away with it live. Ironically, the two accuse each other of not respecting the sources and of lacking transparency… even though the accounts often ride the wave of sensationalist content and which sometimes generates fake news.
The day before, AlertesInfos pointed the finger at its best enemy, Cerfia. The latter would have relayed unsourced information about a call for the release of a zoo. “Unacceptable to tweet this stuff without providing a reliable source. To believe that you are relaying a call from yourself”. If calm has finally returned after this short storm, it is important to wonder about the origin of these accounts which publish ultra-viral content and which now play a major role during periods of strong news. The riots of the past week are unfortunately the perfect example.
“Rhythm is from sunrise to sunset”
For Cerfia, the adventure begins in September 2020, post-first confinement. Three founders, including Vincent Vladesco 20 minutes contacted, launch their account on Twitter. “The Mediavenir account already existed, they were doing a good job but they were the only ones and we said to ourselves that there was a place to take”, he recalls, specifying that at the time, little ambition was actually drawn for this account. None of the founders had a foothold in the information sector. But very quickly, Cerfia took on importance. From three volunteers, the account that has become an association now has around thirty members. “They are enthusiasts, for some students. It allows them to learn and have a first experience for the CV, ”says Vincent Vladesco, himself a law student. “We now see ourselves as a hybrid medium.”
For its part, AlertesInfos was born in 2018 from the solitary ambition of its creator, Moussa, also in his twenties but who does not wish to say more about his identity. “I just wanted to relay information”. After collaborating with “two virtual friends”, he says he is now alone at the helm. “Rhythm is from sunrise to sunset. It’s a full-time job.”
A special device during the riots
But then how does an information account work when you have less time to devote than a media? “When the news is strong like at the moment, we absolutely need to have people available. We then follow an on-call system,” explains Vincent Vladesco. In recent days, a “riot operation” has therefore been deployed. Everything is based on two pairs of two volunteers mobilized each evening. The first group writes the tweets, the second checks them. “For example, for videos, there is always a reverse image search. We have to ask ourselves “Is the video just posted on the internet or is it from 2018”? “. Then, it is necessary to seek the context of the image, to contact the author, to cross the testimonies. “It’s a real work upstream”.
Opposite, the Alertesinfos account is much more helpless to ensure this goldsmith’s work. “But I’m very fast,” boasts Moussa. However, he claims to relay and verify the information. If he receives an image of a town hall that is burning, he tries to find out if it is the right building on Google Maps, but also if the image does not come from another news item. “I do a bit of OSINT after all,” he says. Not really, but experts will appreciate.
“A search for efficiency and truth”
But very often, the race for information of which the media are sometimes victims also affects these accounts. On several occasions, the profiles had to delete erroneous publications. “It’s not a search for speed, it’s above all a search for efficiency and truth”, however tempers Vincent Vladesco. Sometimes accounts are even suspended, like this Wednesday when the AlertesInfos profile is inaccessible.
Vincent Vladesco swears above all on transparency, even though the accounts are often accused of cheerfully taking over the media without sourcing them. At Cerfia, we prefer to share article links in order to reward journalists. For InfoAlerts, this is not always the case. At a minimum, there will be the name of the original media, no more. On Sunday, by relaying vague information published by the Parisian around the identity of the rioters, the account again attracted the taunts of Internet users by admitting: “The article is paid for, I am waiting for it to be relayed by another media”.
The danger of mimicry
But beyond the source, the content often calls for buzz, which the creators of the accounts nevertheless reject. Except that very often, and all the more so during riots, violent and shocking content can be shamelessly shared. “I don’t tweet from the sensationalist. About the riots, I couldn’t do with other words. And then I’m not a journalist, so I have no ethics to have. But I remain neutral, ”defends Moussa, the founder of AlertesInfos. According to Release, Cerfia officials were even contacted this weekend by the Ministry of the Interior to warn of the violence of their content and “the effects of mimicry” that these accounts, which are very popular with 18-24 year olds, could generate.
There remains one last question: that of the financing of the accounts. For its part, Cerfia wants to remain an association and prefers to live from partnerships and advertising on its site created in February 2022. “We talk to young people and we consider that we do not have to ask them for money” . Behind this little sardonic tone, Vincent Vladesco is obviously targeting his competitor AlertesInfos who since Monday has opened donations to finance his account. He would have since received nearly 300 euros.