French leader Emmanuel Macron told mayors on Tuesday that his government could consider controlling access to social media across France “when things get out of hand.”
This follows 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.
“We need to think about the use of these [social] networks by the youth,” Macron said to a group of around 250 mayors whose municipalities had been impacted by the violence, according to The Guardian, citing a video from French broadcaster BFM TV. “When things get out of hand, we may need to regulate them or cut them off.”
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 news agency AP 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.”
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.
Around 4,000 people were arrested from Friday onwards, according to figures on Tuesday. The violence appears to have tapered off since, with just 17 arrests linked to the violence reported overnight.
Macron has also proposed issuing fines to youths who participate in riots.