France’s Macron faces backlash after calls to ‘cut off’ social media

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President Emmanuel Macron’s government faced a backlash Wednesday after the centrist leader called for powers to “cut off” social media in case of widespread violence like riots over the past week.

“We have to think about the social networks, about the bans we’ll have to put in place. When things get out of control, we might need to be able to regulate or cut them off,” Macron told a meeting of mayors on Tuesday according to media reports.

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Macron and his ministers have singled out platforms like Snapchat, TikTok and encrypted messenger Telegram for their role in spreading images of the nights of violence following the June 27 police shooting of a 17-year-old teenager, Nahel M.

“When (social media) becomes a tool for organizing or for attempting to kill, it’s a real problem,” Macron said.

“This is worrying, when we reach the point of saying the only solution is cutting off social networks, you ask yourself what point we’ve reached” in France, Greens leader Marine Tondelier told broadcaster France Inter Wednesday.

Other opposition politicians from left and right had attacked the proposal, with hard-left France Unbowed chief Mathilde Panot responding to Macron in a tweet with “Ok Kim Jong-Un,” referring to the leader of sealed-off North Korea.

“Cut off social networks? Like China, Iran or North Korea? Even if it’s a provocation to distract attention, it’s in very bad taste,” conservative parliamentary chief Olivier Marleix also wrote on Twitter.

Some voices were even raised within Macron’s parliamentary camp, with MP Eric Bothorel writing that to cut off social networks would mean “giving up on the idea that democracy is stronger than the tools turned against it. It would be a mistake.”

Digital Transition Minister Jean-Noel Barrot’s office on Wednesday told France Inter that cutting off social networks was “not on the table.”

Instead, the government wants to bring together lawmakers to discuss how best to alter an existing social-network bill currently under debate, cabinet spokesman Olivier Veran said after ministers met on Wednesday morning.

A working group would examine possible “legal tools” and “precisions” that could be added, he told reporters.

“That could mean suspending features... for example some platforms have geolocation features allowing young people to meet at a certain spot, showing (violent) scenes and how to start fires,” Veran said.

“That’s an appeal to organize hateful acts in public and we’d have the authority to suspend it.”

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