French President Emmanuel Macron is considering ways to control access to social media across France. These he said will be activated “when things get out of hand.”
Macron discussed the possibility of banning access to certain social media features, in a meeting with local mayors in the cities that have seen violent protests.
Macron told about 300 local leaders that “we need to reflect on social media use among the youngest [and] on the prohibitions we must put in place,” in a video seen by some French and international media.
“When things get out of hand, perhaps you have to put yourself in a position to regulate or cut them,” Macron added.
The comments came after days of rioting in the country following the shooting dead by police last week of a teenager of North African descent in a Paris suburb.
Macron added that he believes this to be a “real debate that we need to have in the cold light of day.”
Last week, Macron said social media companies had played a “considerable role” in the unrest across the country. An unnamed French official told the AP news agency on Friday that personal details of the police officer who shot the 17-year-old boy had been leaked online.
The French president also called upon various social networks to display a “sense of responsibility” when it comes to moderating content on their platforms, and to take down posts which might encourage violence.
Ministers met with representatives of TikTok and Snapchat on Friday – with justice minister Eric Dupond-Moretti proposing afterwards that legal measures could be initiated to penalize social media users who participate in illegal acts.
Critics have said, however, that any suspension of social media would represent a restriction of free speech. “Cut social media? Like China, Iran, North Korea?” said Olivier Marleix of political party Les Republicains. “Even if it’s a provocation to distract attention, it’s in very bad taste.”
Macron and others claim that protesters are using Snapchat, TikTok, and Telegram – all social media platforms with limited content monitoring functionality – to film violent events and, according to officials, organise illegal gatherings.
A source close to the president told AFP that Macron was not advocating a “general blackout” but rather “being able to temporarily suspend social media as needed.”
French Minister for Digital Transition Jean-Noël Barrot proposed to the Senate on Tuesday evening the creation of a working group to address measures to be taken in the event of riots, which could be included in the bill to “secure” the Internet.
On Wednesday, an anonymous official from Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot’s office backtracked on Macron’s statement in comments to Politico: “The president said it was technically possible, but not that it was being considered. Nothing should be ruled out on principle.”
Macron’s government has been faced with widespread riots and looting since the death of the teenage boy during a police traffic stop on June 27, which has inflamed tensions of racism and police brutality across the country.
Nnamdi Maduakor is a Writer, Investor and Entrepreneur