France discussed limiting or preventing access to social media sites to quell the riots that recently took place across the country. President Emmanuel Macron told a group of Mayors at the Elysee Palace, “We need to think about the use of these networks by the youth … and about the bans that need to be put in place. And I say this very clearly, because they change the way young people relate to reality.”
Commentators criticized the President for taking an authoritarian approach reminiscent of China or the old Soviet Union. The government later tried to backtrack – an official said the President merely pointed out that blocking social media was possible, but he did not advocate such a move.
Riots and disorder have plagued France since police officers shot and killed a 17-year-old with a long record of run-ins with law enforcement. The teenager is of immigrant-descent and French authorities are therefore accused of racism by immigrant and left-wing groups. In response to the violence, the United Nations said France needed to look deeper at its racist attitudes, particularly those of law enforcement officers.
The policeman involved in the incident said he did not mean to kill the teenager known only as Nahel M. He said Nahel threatened to drive into traffic and cause an accident, which he sought to prevent. A witness said Nahel and two passengers were driving a Mercedes at speed in a bus lane when police officers on motorcycles attempted to intercede. The officers tried to force the driver to pull over, but they were ignored.
Riots broke out soon after the incident and spread throughout France, costing more than $700 million. Approximately 5,000 vehicles and 1,000 buildings were set alight, and Jewish businesses and synagogues were specifically targeted. Protestors defaced a Holocaust memorial in Paris, and marchers chanted “Allahu Akbar” during protests.
Patriotic leader Marine Le Pen blamed the riots on “anarchic immigration” and vowed to control the nation’s borders.