Here's why social media is being blamed for fuelling riots in France

The president of France is accusing TikTok, Snapchat, and other platforms of contributing to massive rioting after a 17-year-old driver was fatally shot by police, bringing social media giants under new scrutiny.

In an effort to quell protests that brought long-simmering tensions between police and young people in the country to the surface, French President Emmanuel Macron accused social media of playing a “considerable role” in instigating copycat acts of violence on Friday.

Gerald Darmanin, the interior minister for France, reported that police only made 917 arrests on Thursday. In an effort to put an end to the rioting following the murder of the boy, who is of north African heritage and has only been given by his first name, more than 300 police officers have also been hurt.

In addition to criticising video games for the unrest, Macron said the French government would engage with social media platforms to remove “the most sensitive content” and track down individuals who “call for disorder or exacerbate the violence.”

An anonymous French official gave an example of how the name and address of the police officer who shot at Nahel were posted on social media in accordance with the customs of the presidency. According to the official, a prison officer also saw that his business card was online, raising concerns for the person’s safety and those of his or her family.

Macron did not define in his address on Friday what kinds of posts he thought were “sensitive,” but he did state that he expected “a spirit of responsibility” from the social media sites.

According to the source, discussions between the government and social media platforms, such as Snapchat and Twitter, have begun with the goal of removing violent content more quickly. Even if it is still in the “discussion” stage, the French government is pressing for the identification of those who issue violent calls.

Darmanin claimed that he had warned social media platforms in a meeting not to allow themselves to be used as platforms for inciting violence.

Darmanin stated on Friday that the French government will give social media companies “as much information as possible” so they can identify the individuals who encourage violence. He also added that the government will “pursue every person who uses these social networks to commit violent acts.”

A bill that will require platforms and search engines to remove prohibited content within 24 hours was adopted by the nation’s parliament in 2020. A French court found 11 of 13 defendants guilty of harassing and threatening a minor who had fiercely criticised Islam in an online post a year earlier. However, only those who could be located were the ones who were charged.

Snapchat has expanded its moderation since Tuesday to find and address content related to the unrest in France, according to Rachel Racusen, a representative for the company. Macron slammed Snapchat, one of the social media sites, for contributing to the unrest.

Violence has terrible repercussions, and on any portion of Snapchat, Racusen added, “We have zero tolerance for content that promotes or incites hatred or violent behaviour.” “We actively moderate this kind of stuff, and when we find it, we take the necessary steps to delete it. We do permit content that accurately reports the circumstance.

But a lot of the others are remaining silent. On Friday, neither TikTok nor Meta—which owns Facebook and Instagram—promptly responded to requests for comment. 

Because it can violate their policies, social media platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter frequently police users who urge for violence.

However, they also take down content from their platforms in order to abide by controversial government orders and local regulations. A recent instance was Twitter’s decision to restrict speech in May at the government’s request in the run-up to the presidential elections in Turkey.

On its website, Snapchat states that it works with law enforcement and government organisations to respond to “valid requests” for data that can be useful during investigations.

Throughout the year, the company gets a lot of requests. The United States government, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany, made the most requests, according to its most recent transparency report for the second half of 2022. Officials in France submitted 100 urgent demands for customer data, including account identifiers like email addresses and phone numbers. In 54% of those queries, the corporation claimed to have “some data” to show for it.

Under 20 requests from the French government were listed in TikTok’s transparency report for the same time period. For 86% of the requests, it either removed or limited content.

Hany Farid, a digital forensics specialist at the University of California, Berkeley who left TikTok’s U.S. content advisory group in January, said most platforms will comply if a government requests that a specific piece of content be removed because it contravenes local law.

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