Several prominent French journalists have been suspended and another could lose his job over their participation in a secret Facebook group that encouraged the online harassment of women.
The existence of the private group was first reported last week by French newspaper Liberation, which said it was founded in 2009. The group called itself the 'LOL League' and was made up mainly of men.
Members of the group have admitted that it was used to harass women. In one case, a member admitted to setting up a phone call in which a woman was offered a fake job and then sharing the recording publicly.
The scandal has drawn comparisons in the media to the #MeToo movement, which exposed wrongdoing by powerful men in the industry. Some aspects also resemble the organized online harassment of female video game developers and their allies during #Gamergate.
Victims have accused the LOL League of orchestrating targeted harassment campaigns that would result in streams of vitriolic messages on social media platforms like Twitter. One likened the experience to 'running away from a sniper.'
It's not clear whether the private Facebook group remains active or has been closed. Facebook did not respond Tuesday when asked about the group's activities.
SOS Racisme, France's leading anti-racism body, has asked the Paris prosecutor to open a preliminary investigation.
Liberation has opened an internal investigation and suspended two journalists that participated in the group including LOL League founder Vincent Glad, who apologized and said it was initially created 'only to have fun.'
'We spoke of trolling, it was harassment,' Glad, who is a regular freelancer for the newspaper, said in a statement posted on Twitter.
'I did not see that we had silenced, with our jokes, the first feminist words that appeared on social networks,' he wrote. 'By creating this group, I created a monster that got out of my control.'
French culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles said it would fire web editor David Doucet after he took responsibility for the fake job offer.
'I saw that some people were regularly targeted but I did not think of the extent of the trauma they were suffering,' Doucet wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. 'There are no excuses. I am sorry.'
Christophe Carron, editor-in-chief of Slate's French edition, apologized for participating in the group but denied harassing anyone.
'If anyone was offended by my comments, or if they were considered in poor taste, I am eminently sorry and sincerely apologize to whom it may have affected,' he said in a post on Twitter.
Marc Sillam, the director general of Slate.fr, said in a statement that Carron was a 'passive' member of the Facebook group who has 'never harassed or insulted anyone.'
Carron will keep his job as editor-in-chief, but his deputy will supervise coverage of the LOL League scandal, Sillam added.
Victims speak out
Several women who said they were victims of the group shared their experiences on social media.
Capucine Piot, a former journalist, said that she was targeted with a mocking video montage and repeatedly attacked online for years.
'They humiliated us in public, without thinking of our pain, of what we could feel. It was a descent into hell for me,' she said in a tweet.
Florence Porcel, a videojournalist, said she was the victim of the job offer hoax. In a post on Twitter, she said she 'cried from shame, humiliation and fear' when the recording was made public.
Activist Daria Marx wrote in a blog post that for years she has felt like she was 'running away from a sniper' and escaping 'virtual bullets of an army gone crazy.'
'With each tweet, with each photo that was shared, I feared I was going to be taken down,' she said. 'I knew that I was going to pay the price of my freedom of expression.'
Tech reporter Lea Lejeune told CNN she had received apologies from five members of the group who had bullied her online. She described messages received on social media as a 'torrent of abuse.'
Marlene Schiappa, France's minister for gender equality, tweeted a message of support to victims on Monday.
'All my support and solidarity to bloggers and journalists who have had to suffer the sexist harassment of #LigueDuLol especially @FlorencePorcel,' she said.
'It's not the 'internet' that's cruel, it's what we do with it,' Schiappa added.