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Blocking the Internet during revolt: Kanaky and the suburbs as laboratories

A method once reserved for authoritarian regimes or periods of war is now being implemented by the French government in New Caledonia

From Contre Attaque

Two weeks ago, France took an unprecedented measure for a Western democracy: completely cutting off a social network, Tiktok, to stem a revolt. The measure has been applied since May 14 in New Caledonia. But the regime would like to go much further. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin declared during a hearing at the National Assembly that a “cutoff of 5G, 4G and 3G was considered” in Kanaky as well. “The choice was not made, even if we asked ourselves the question, as mentioned in the senatorial report on the riots, of lowering from 5G to 2G for all social networks”, he added. No more internet, just enough to make calls and send text messages.

Let us remember, such a cut would literally be a method of dictatorship or a state of war. For example, Israel cut off the internet in Gaza as it launched its genocidal offensive. Since 2021, states have cut or restricted the internet during riots or demonstrations: the military junta of Myanmar, the Belarusian dictatorship, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Sudan, Kazakhstan and Pakistan. Last June it was Senegal, as part of a bloody repression. Macron’s France would therefore like to join this club of remarkably democratic states. The acceptable standards of our leaders have sunk to the same level as fascist states or religious dictatorships.

In July 2023, just after the great revolt in the French suburbs caused by the assassination of Nahel Merzouk, Emmanuel Macron declared to the mayors he received at the Élysée that he was considering “cutting off” social networks in the event of new episodes of urban violence. He suggested: “we were able to see, when things get out of control for a moment, we say to ourselves: we are perhaps putting ourselves in a position to regulate or cut them”. This announcement created controversy, and the Elysée communications service was quick to backpedal, claiming that such a measure was not on the agenda, while admitting that “the President thought more about a one-off and temporary suspension of social networks”.

Preparing public opinion

In politics, we call this a “test balloon”. A leader makes an extremely violent announcement to see the result. And if there aren’t too many reactions, they know they can apply it later. In recent months, for example, ministers have called for destroying the status of civil servants, restoring military service, allowing Macron to run for a third term, and, before that, send the army against the Yellow Vests. These are experiments, a Machiavellian way of preparing public opinion. The total internet shutdown in the event of a revolt is thus a “test balloon”, it is slowly making its way in.

Confrontation in Besançon after police shootring of Nahel, June 30 2023. Wikipedia

Also last summer, according to website Là bas si j’y suis, Darmanin had already asked the telecoms operators Orange, Bouygues, SFR and Free if it was “technically possible” for them to cut 4G and 5G in certain neighborhoods in France. The companies responded that it was “technically unfeasible on Friday evening”, but “feasible thereafter”, still expressing some reservations, in particular on the effect of these localised cuts on law enforcement communications, and calling for a legal framework for such network shutdowns which would also prevent emergency calls in the neighborhoods concerned.

As for the French Communist Party (PCF), Fabien Roussel said social networks “will have to be cut off when the situation in the country gets too tense. I prefer a state of emergency in social networks than (among) the population”, he told France Info. The test balloon was already bearing fruit, since the “responsible left” approved this censorship project.

In August, European Commissioner Thierry Breton, big boss, former minister and close to Macron, announced that social networks will be forced to immediately delete “content that calls for revolt”, under penalty of simply being cut off on the territory. After the Yellow Vests protests, Macron had already summoned Marc Zuckerberg and passed a law on “hateful content online”. Just after the riots last summer, those responsible for Meta, Snapchat, Twitter and TikTok were summoned by the French government to “take several measures” to regulate social networks or even temporarily ban them, as dictatorships have done in the event of uprisings in recent years.

In a country where a few far-right billionaires control almost all the dominant media and constantly spit out police propaganda, the internet is one of the last counter-powers. Without networks, the revolt would in fact be easier to put down: no images of police violence, no calls to demonstrate, no independent media. Only CNews and BFM as media relays. The wet dream of tyrants.

Little by little, the government is preparing minds and the state apparatus to cut off the internet during the next big uprising, and is using New Caledonia and the suburbs as a laboratory.


Top: Insurgents in northern Kanaky. Photo: kanaky.resistnace on Instagram

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