The Role of Social Media in the French Riots

by Michael Nguyen
Social media riots

Social media platforms are once again facing scrutiny, this time in France, as President Emmanuel Macron accuses TikTok, Snapchat, and other platforms of contributing to the widespread riots following the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old driver. The riots have reignited long-standing tensions between the police and young people in the country.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin revealed that 917 arrests were made on Thursday alone, and over 300 police officers have been injured in their attempts to control the violence. Macron blamed social media and video games for fueling the unrest and announced that the government would collaborate with social media sites to remove sensitive content and identify individuals who incite violence or worsen the situation.

Concerns from the French government stem from instances where personal information, such as the name and address of the police officer involved in the shooting, was shared on social media, potentially endangering the officer and their family. Macron emphasized the need for responsibility among social media platforms without specifying what he deemed “sensitive” content.

The government has initiated talks with social media companies, including Snapchat and Twitter, to expedite the removal of violent content. The French government also aims to identify individuals who call for violence, although discussions on this matter are ongoing.

Darmanin warned social networks during a meeting that they must not allow themselves to be used as platforms for inciting violence. He expressed hope for their cooperation and stated that the authorities would provide relevant information to social media companies in exchange for the identification of individuals inciting violence. Furthermore, he emphasized that the country would take all necessary measures if social networks fail to comply with the law.

Legally, France has provisions against cyber harassment and can prosecute online threats and insults. However, enforcement remains rare. In 2020, the French parliament passed a bill requiring platforms and search engines to remove prohibited content within 24 hours. A year later, a French court convicted individuals who had harassed and threatened a teenager for criticizing Islam online, but only those who could be located.

Regarding their involvement, Snapchat’s spokesperson, Rachel Racusen, highlighted their increased moderation efforts to detect and take action against content related to the riots in France. Racusen emphasized Snapchat’s zero tolerance for content promoting hatred or violence, stating that they proactively moderate such content and remove it when found. However, other platforms such as TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, did not provide immediate comments. Twitter’s response was an automated reply consisting of a poop emoji.

Social media platforms typically enforce policies against violence and can remove content that violates these policies. They may also comply with local laws and government requests, although these requests can be controversial. For example, Twitter censored speech as requested by the Turkish government ahead of their presidential elections. Snapchat states that it cooperates with law enforcement and government agencies in fulfilling valid requests for information to aid investigations.

Snapchat received numerous requests, primarily from the US, UK, Canada, and Germany, in its latest transparency report. France made 100 emergency requests for user information, and Snapchat provided “some data” in 54% of those requests. TikTok received fewer requests from the French government during the same period but fulfilled 86% of those requests by removing or restricting content or accounts.

Digital forensics expert Hany Farid noted that platforms usually comply when a government requests the removal of specific content violating local laws. However, the feasibility of requests depends on the platform and the scope and rationale behind the request. Broad requests to take down thousands of pieces of content may face more resistance.

Emma Llansó, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Free Expression Project, cautioned that while it is appropriate to remove speech that genuinely incites violence, online services should be cautious, especially with sweeping and overly broad requests. During times of passionate political debate and public outcry, people may use heated language or allusions to violence without intending to incite or commit violent acts.

The current protests in France involve young people protesting against state violence, a significant form of political expression. The response of social media companies in this moment is crucial in enabling individuals to voice their political opinions. Striking the right balance is a challenging task.

(Note: The original text has been heavily paraphrased and restructured for clarity and coherence.)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Social media riots

Why are social media companies being blamed for fueling riots in France?

Social media companies are being blamed for fueling riots in France due to their alleged role in encouraging copycat acts of violence following the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old driver. French President Macron believes these platforms played a significant role in exacerbating the protests and tensions between the police and young people in the country.

What actions is the French government taking in response to the role of social media in the riots?

The French government intends to work with social media sites to remove sensitive content and identify users who incite violence or worsen the situation. They have initiated talks with platforms such as Snapchat and Twitter to expedite the removal of violent content and push for the identification of individuals who call for violence. The government has also warned social networks against being used as channels for calls to violence and is prepared to take necessary measures if platforms fail to respect the law.

What concerns does the French government have regarding the role of social media?

The French government is concerned about the sharing of personal information, such as the name and address of the police officer involved in the shooting, on social media platforms. They fear that this could put the officer and their family at risk. Additionally, they are worried about the spread of content that incites violence and worsens the situation during the riots.

What laws exist in France regarding online content and cyber harassment?

France has laws against cyber harassment, where online threats of crimes and insults can be prosecuted. In 2020, a bill was passed requiring platforms and search engines to remove prohibited content within 24 hours. However, enforcement of these laws remains rare. The French government is now pushing for stricter compliance and removal of violent content on social media platforms.

How do social media platforms typically respond to requests from governments and law enforcement?

Social media platforms often cooperate with law enforcement and government agencies when it comes to fulfilling valid requests for information related to investigations. They may remove or restrict content that violates local laws and policies. The extent of their cooperation depends on the nature and scope of the request, as well as the platform’s policies and considerations.

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TechGeek87 July 1, 2023 - 1:20 am

Govt wants social media to remove “sensitive content” – but who decides what’s sensitive? Slippery slope to censorship if you ask me. Gotta be careful with these regulations. #FreedomOfExpression

LanguageNerd23 July 1, 2023 - 1:26 am

The lack of proper grammar and spelling in these comments is painful to read. Let’s remember the importance of clear communication, even in informal settings. #GrammarMatters


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