PARIS (Reuters) – A bedbug scare in Paris last autumn that grabbed headlines across the globe was artificially amplified by social media accounts linked to Russian “disinformation” activities, a French minister said on Friday.

“The bedbug polemic was in a very large part amplified by accounts linked to the Kremlin, and they even created a false link between the arrival of Ukrainian refuges and the spread of bedbugs,” French European affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot told TF1 television.

After social media users published footage of the insects crawling around in high-speed trains and the Paris metro, French and foreign media, including Reuters, widely reported on the scare.

The city of Paris’ deputy mayor called on the government to help stamp out the bugs ahead of the Paris Olympics in summer 2024 and some schools and classes were temporarily closed and a deep inspection of metro and railroad cars was carried out. But authorities said there was no trace of any unusual outbreak.

Asked if the government believes Russian accounts had “orchestrated” the panic, Barrot did not confirm, saying instead the disinformation campaign “amplified” an existing scare with the aim of creating a sentiment of insecurity.

Barrot said that in the past two years – since the start of the war in Ukraine – Russian cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns had accelerated.

“We know this because of the Viginum service created in 2021, whose mission it is to detect such manoeuvres that aim to destabilise public opinion in France and to weaken public support for Ukraine,” he said.

In November, France blamed a Russian disinformation campaign for amplifying on social media graffiti of Stars of David that had appeared on walls in on Oct. 31 in Paris, shortly after war broke out in Gaza.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Tassilo Hummel; Editing by David Gregorio)