Once again, social media companies are facing scrutiny, this time in France, as President Emmanuel Macron blames platforms like TikTok and Snapchat for exacerbating widespread riots following the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old driver.
President Macron accused social media of playing a “considerable role” in encouraging copycat acts of violence as the country grapples with protests that have exposed long-standing tensions between the police and young people. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reported 917 arrests made by the police on Thursday alone, with over 300 officers injured while attempting to quell the riots sparked by the teenager’s death. The teenager, identified only by his first name, Nahel, is of North African descent.
In addition to criticizing social media, Macron also targeted video games as contributors to the violence. The French government intends to collaborate with social media platforms to remove “sensitive content” and identify users who promote disorder or escalate violence.
The French government’s concerns arise from instances such as the publication of the name and address of the police officer involved in the shooting on social media. Additionally, a prison officer’s professional information was shared online, posing a potential risk to their life and family, according to an anonymous French official.
Although Macron did not specify the nature of the content he deems “sensitive,” he called for a responsible approach from social media platforms. Discussions between the government and platforms like Snapchat and Twitter have commenced to expedite the removal of violence-inciting content. The government also aims to identify individuals who call for violence, although this is still at the discussion stage.
Darmanin, in a meeting with social networks, warned that they should not allow themselves to be used as channels for calls to violence. He mentioned that social media companies were cooperative but added that their true commitment would be evident in their actions.
Furthermore, French authorities plan to provide social media companies with relevant information to obtain the identities of individuals who incite violence. They emphasized that anyone who uses social networks for violent acts will face consequences. The government is prepared to take necessary measures against social networks that fail to comply with the law, such as France’s legislation against cyber harassment and prosecution of online threats and insults.
However, enforcing these measures has been rare in practice. In 2020, a bill was passed requiring platforms and search engines to remove prohibited content within 24 hours. A year later, a French court convicted 11 out of 13 individuals charged with harassing and threatening a teenager who had criticized Islam online. However, those convicted were only the ones who could be identified.
Social media platforms, including Snapchat, have increased moderation efforts to detect and address content related to the riots in France. They maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards content that promotes hatred or violence. However, platforms like TikTok and Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Twitter’s response was limited to an automated reply of a poop emoji, as has become common during Elon Musk’s tenure.
Typically, social media platforms police calls for violence as it goes against their policies. They also remove content to comply with local laws and government requests, although this can be controversial. For instance, Twitter censored speech in response to the Turkish government’s request before the country’s presidential elections.
Snapchat, for instance, cooperates with law enforcement and government agencies, providing requested information to assist investigations. The platform receives numerous requests throughout the year, with the majority coming from the US, the UK, Canada, and Germany. In France, emergency requests for user information were submitted, resulting in the production of “some data” in 54% of cases.
TikTok received fewer requests from the French government but complied with the removal or restriction of content or accounts in 86% of cases, as indicated in their transparency