TikTok media are gaining subscribers from French riots

Police officers take position during riots following the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer in Nanterre during a traffic stop, at Champs Elysees in Paris, France, July 1, 2023. — Reuters

Video footage of the riots in France were hugely popular on social media last week as unrest spread throughout the country, leading French President Emmanuel Macron to blame TikTok, Snapchat and other apps for fueling violence.

The live coverage of the riots on TikTok was especially viral, says Guillaume Lacroix, the chief executive officer of Brut, a youth-focused media company that distributes its content primarily via social networks. Brut gained 700,000 TikTok subscribers, bringing its total to 5.3 million, and quadrupled its weekly number of views, Lacroix said.

Brut’s subscriber growth puts it within reach of the Daily Mail, which has 5.6 million subscribers on TikTok and is the app’s most popular European media outlet.

As many cities across France saw riots and looting after the killing of a 17-year-old by a police officer last Tuesday, thousands of TikTok users livestreamed scenes on the app. Some of the scenes included mounds of garbage burning in Dunkirk, a person carrying a giant TV looted in Marseille and a call from a teenager in Strasbourg to subscribe to his account to follow clashes with the police.

Lacroix said that many regular users who streamed the unrest gained thousands of subscribers, as young people turned to TikTok for their news. Brut amplifies some of these videos through its own channels with the consent of their creators, he added.

Another social news company, Loopsider, said its TikTok views surged from 50 million the previous week to more than 200 million. "Short videos in TikTok format are ideal for capturing such events,” said Giuseppe de Martino, a cofounder of Loopsider. "Of course, we’re not crowing about an increase in views in these troubled times.”

On Friday, Emmanuel Macron highlighted the "considerable role” social media played, naming TikTok and Snapchat as having been used to organize violent gatherings and inspiring copycat behavior. "Among the youngest ones, it leads to a sort of departure from reality, and we have the impression sometimes that some of them are living out the video games that have brainwashed them in the street,” Macron said.

French ministers amplified Macron’s warnings over the weekend about the effects of social media in encouraging riots and looting. "This could partly explain the extremely young age of a number of perpetrators,” said government spokesman Olivier Veran on France Inter radio this Sunday. "There seems to be communities and groups competing for followers,” he said. "The most painful thing about these images is that people who are filming are generally laughing their heads off,” he said.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot on Friday met with representatives for TikTok, Snap, Twitter and Meta, asking them to actively remove violent content and help the authorities to identify those using their platforms to call for unrest. TikTok confirmed the meeting took place but didn’t comment on its use in France last week. "TikTok naturally pays close attention to the situation, but does not share this data,” a company representative said.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti on Saturday warned that French law allows for the identification and arrest of people behind anonymous accounts deemed to be inciting violence.

TikTok and its Chinese owner, ByteDance Ltd. are under worldwide scrutiny over security risks and the impact of its algorithms, with some governments threatening to ban TikTok or force it to split from its parent company. The French Senate is due to deliver on Thursday the results of a series of hearings on concerns over the app. – Bloomberg

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