French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested to cut off social media platforms like TikTok amid violent riots in the country, sparking widespread criticisms from the public.
The suggestions are on the back of violent demonstrations, which erupted in the country following the killing by police of a 17-year-old boy of North African descent. His death reignited the long-held accusations of brutality and racism within the French forces.
Social media platforms fueling violence?
President Macron made the comments when he met over 200 mayors of the targeted cities who said platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Telegram were being abused by young people to incite violence in the country.
“We need to think about the use of these networks by the youth…. when things get out of hand, we may need to regulate them or cut them off,” he told his audience at the Elysée Palace.
“And I say this very clearly, because they change the way young people relate to reality…. Above all, we shouldn’t do this in the heat of the moment and I’m pleased we didn’t have to,” added President Macron.
He also reportedly suggested parents of children involved in the riots be fined.
“With the first crime, we need to find a way of sanctioning the families financially and easily, he said according to Le Parisien newspaper’s comments.
Following his comments, the country’s first citizen faced criticism as people feel there is an infringement on their rights. The comments drew criticism from across the political divide, among them his own allies.
“The country of the rights of man and citizens cannot align itself with those great democracies of China, Russia and Iran,” tweeted leader of the Socialist party Olivier Faure.
Olivier Marlex of the centre-right Les Républicains weighed in and said: “Cut social media? Like China, Iran, North Korea? Even if it’s a provocation to distract attention it’s in very bad taste.”
Another MP from President Macron’s Renaissance party Eric Bothorel was also against the comments to clampdown social media.
“This would mean abandoning the idea that democracy is stronger than the tools used against it. That would be a mistake,” he said in a tweet.
Prior the comments, President Macron earlier had made a call to social media platforms to have a sense of responsibility. He called on them to filter sensitive posts especially those that showed violence or looting.
This was subsequently followed by a meeting between French Ministers and management from TikTok and Snapchat.
According to a report by the Politico, lawmakers have made attempts this past week to tighten screws on social media platforms when voting on the country’s tech bill. Among the proposals is for social media platforms to remove any content flagged by authorities within two hours.
Government however has been trying to downplay the controversial comments by the President on possibly cutting off social media platforms.
— Élysée (@Elysee) July 5, 2023
“The president said it was technically possible, but not that it was being considered. Nothing should be ruled out on principle,” an official from Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot’s team who could not be named told the Politico.
When asked about President Macron’s remarks, government spokesperson Olivier Véran told a press conference that there could be “temporary suspension of functionalities, such as geolocation, which allows users to find themselves in such and such a place, to show such and such a scene.”