Social media groups under fire in France for assassinations of Islamists


In the hours following the assassination of a history professor by an 18-year-old Islamist in France on Friday, social media platforms were singled out for helping motivate the killer before beheading Samuel Paty, then for allowing him to horribly claim moments of responsibility. then.

“Things started on social networks and they ended on social networks,” said Gabriel Attal, the spokesperson for the French government. “We have to do better to get them under control.”

Major social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were already under pressure in Europe, the United States and Asia to curb the spread of fake news and hate speech and to stop turning a blind eye to the promotion of violence .

Last year, the platforms pledged to strengthen their moderation capacities and introduced new hate speech policies, after a white supremacist killed 51 people in an attack on two mosques in Nova Scotia. Zealand and broadcast the images live via Facebook’s Live service.

More broadly, Facebook and YouTube have come under fire for helping extremist groups recruit, radicalize, and organize – because their algorithms tend to push users towards provocative and catchy content.

Lately, concerns have focused on the rise of armed militia platforms in the United States ahead of the presidential election and the pro-Trump conspiracy group QAnon.

Officials and politicians say Paty’s assassination will inevitably speed up legislation in France and the EU designed to hold social media platforms accountable for the sometimes inflammatory content posted by their users.

Residents gather at Collège Bois d’Aulne after Samuel Paty’s murder © Siegfried Modola / Getty

Investigators are still trying to piece together the sequence of events that led Abdullakh Anzorov, a Chechen refugee, to hack the head of a teacher in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine near Paris who showed students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a classroom about freedom. of speech.

But the fact that the murderer, shot dead by police, came from Evreux 80 km to the west suggests that he learned about Paty and Muslims’ complaints about him from videos posted on the internet. The videos were distributed widely, with some students and parents at the school complaining that they had been sent to them multiple times.

Brahim Chnina, the father of one of the school’s students, posted three videos that were very critical of Paty, demanding his dismissal and calling on people to act. At least one of the videos could still be seen on Mr. Chnina’s Facebook account on Monday evening. Mr. Chnina made one with the help of Abdelhakim Sefrioui, an Islamist activist already qualified as a security risk by the French intelligence services. Both men were detained.

After killing Paty, Anzorov sent a Twitter message with a photo of the severed head in the street addressed to President Emmanuel Macron, “leader of the infidels”, and bragging about having killed “one of your dogs of the hell who dared to denigrate Mohammed ”. .

According to Le Monde newspaper, Anzorov has sent 400 tweets from this account, @ Ttchetchene_270 in recent weeks. The account was reported in July to Pharos, a government site where the public can report violations of the law or other Internet concerns.

Twitter declined to say when it deleted the account – it is no longer visible – and declined to comment further on the attack. However, the company said Twitter does not tolerate terrorism or terrorist content and that its teams are “proactively acting on such content and are in contact with law enforcement to act as quickly as possible. “.

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

French executives under Mr Macron below immediately announced plans to tighten controls on social media after what Mr Attal called Paty’s ‘public lynching’ on the internet.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 80 investigations had been opened since the attack on those who sought to justify the murder or said the teacher had “brought him in”. Marlène Schiappa, Minister of Citizenship, held a meeting of police chiefs on Monday to study new measures against “cyber-Islamism”.

Ironically, Mr Macron’s government had already finalized an anti-hate internet law in May, but its key clauses – including a social media obligation to remove hateful content within 24 hours or face hefty fines and a penalty. transparency requirement – have been canceled. in June by the Constitutional Council for reasons of freedom of expression.

Laetitia Avia, the MP who drafted the law, described Paty’s murder as a tragedy that “reminds everyone that social media has been the breeding ground for dangerous content.”

She told the Financial Times on Monday that she was continuing to work on the issue in France and Brussels, where the European Commission is expected to present its new digital services law in December.

One of the problems, she noted, was that traditional media were considered in French law as publishers, while social networks were treated as neutral “hosts”, even though they were truly hybrid because their business model meant that they ranked and placed the content to attract readers and viewers. Another problem was that seemingly innocuous verbal abuse was often a precursor to actual abuse.

“We now need to treat dangerous content as a priority,” she said.


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