Is it right to blame social media for fueling the violent French riots?
It’s been over six days since France lost its peace as widespread protests over a fatal police shooting of an Arab teenager continue. Thousands of arrests have been made, with dozens of police officers sustaining injuries while trying to quell the rioting.
Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron has blamed social media for encouraging copycat acts of violence as the country struggles to contain demonstrations that surfaced simmering discontent over police violence and systemic racism inside law enforcement agencies.
The 17-year-old victim of North African descent has been identified as Nahel Merzouk. Macron said the government would work with social media platforms to take down sensitive posts and identify users who exacerbate the violence.
Why Are French Authorities Concerned?
An anonymous French official recently cited an example of the address of the officer who shot Nahel being circulating online. While the president didn’t specify what type of content he viewed as “sensitive”, he stressed the need for “a spirit of responsibility” from social media platforms.
Talks have already started between the government and the platforms over how to speed up the process of removing content fueling violence, the official said. Meanwhile, authorities are also pushing for plans to identify people who launch calls for violence, but it’s still being discussed.
What are French law and social media platforms saying?
Cyber harassment is a serious criminal offence in the country. Online insults and threats of crimes, like murder and rape, can be prosecuted. But in reality, it’s immensely rare.
The French parliament approved a bill in 2020 that would make it compulsory for search engines and social media platforms to remove prohibited content within 24 hours.
Now coming to the stance the platforms have adopted with respect to the ongoing riots, Snapchat spokesperson Rachel Racusen said the company has increased its moderation to swiftly identify and take action on content related to the protests.
“Violence has devastating consequences,” Racusen said, highlighting Snapchat’s zero tolerance for content that fuels hatred or violent behaviour. Nevertheless, posts that are factually reporting on the situation do get a green flag.
But many of the other platforms are keeping mum on their position.