- After the assassination of Samuel Paty, the Minister for Citizenship, Marlène Schiappa, announced the creation of a “republican counter-discourse unit on social networks”.
- The objective of this new government unit is to organize the response to “cyber Islamism”, and in particular to fight against radicalization speeches on social networks.
- “It is really fundamental that the State occupies this land”, explains Romain Pigenel, former deputy director in charge of digital at the information service of the government.
How to fight today against “cyber Islamism”? After the assassination of Samuel Paty on October 16 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, many avenues were raised by the government to fight against radicalization speeches on the Web. Strengthening of the Pharos platform, closer collaboration with online platforms, creation of a “crime of endangering the life of others on the Internet”… In addition to these measures, the Minister for Citizenship, Marlène Schiappa , announced the creation of “a unit of republican counter-discourse on social networks”.
Concretely, it would be a question of setting up a government cell in charge of “carrying a discourse of counter-propaganda” in the face of “speeches by Islamists on the Web, of systematic victimization”, explained Marlène Schiappa in an interview with L’Obs. This unit will be supervised by the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Crime and Radicalization, headed by Christian Gravel, a close friend of Manuel Valls and former communications advisor to President Hollande.
20 Minutes takes stock of this new government unit, which should soon be created.
Social networks and platforms must take their responsibilities and act more effectively with State services.
Yesterday we drew up several avenues of concrete action against cyber-Islamism 👇🏾https://t.co/50w1TsmChY
– 🇫🇷 MarleneSchiappa (@MarleneSchiappa) October 21, 2020
Why create a “republican counter-discourse unit”?
The objective of this new government unit is to organize the response to “cyber Islamism”, and in particular to fight against radicalization speeches on social networks. “We see the development of speeches by Islamists on the Web, of systematic victimization, without anyone denying them”, explains Marlène Schiappa, who wishes the government to carry “a discourse of counter-propaganda”. “The idea is to interfere in all the conversations that exist on social networks around the subjects of Islamism, to respond and to retaliate. There is no contradiction brought to the Islamists, and it seems important to us to do so, ”adds the Minister for Citizenship.
Marlène Schiappa cites, as an example, the search of the premises of the BarakaCity association. “We are in a state of law. If there was a search under the authority of the judge, it is because there were elements in a judicial file. We took several days to respond ”through the spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, explains the minister. “Next time, the counter-speech must be ready, to defend our values. “
“This unity of Republican counter-discourse is not something useful, it is just essential”, explains to 20 Minutes Romain Pigenel, former deputy director in charge of digital at the Government Information Service, who piloted the digital crisis communication on topics related to terrorism from 2014 to 2016, and the “Stop Jihadism” project, a device that has inspired Marlène Schiappa in the creation of “this republican cyber-brigade”. “Today, the socialization of young people is increasingly done through traditional online platforms, but also through more closed social networks like Snapchator TikTok, and by instant messaging, over which educational communities – and parents – have very little control. It is therefore really fundamental that the State occupy this land ”, he underlines.
What will be the missions of “this republican cyber-brigade”?
The system that Marlène Schiappa wishes to put in place is therefore reminiscent of the one put in place after the 2015 attacks on the initiative of Manuel Valls and already led, at the time, by
Christian Gravel. The goal of the “Stop Jihadism” project was to stop the machine of radicalization through “battalions of community managers” promised by the Prime Minister at the time. “These battalions were not set up, there were embryos, but not the necessary arbitrations at the time to really create them”, explains Marlène Schiappa today.
“The tracks on which we had started to work with” Stop Jihadism “will probably be exploited”, notes Romain Pigenel. “It will first be a matter of reaffirming the State’s online presence, by having people who are able to respond and fight head to foot in online discussions, to recall the law and convince in advancing arguments. But also to spot, monitor information and identify conversations in order to be able to go and interact with people who would hold problematic speeches, ”he explains.
The ministry may want to involve influencers in this process, notes Romain Pigenel. “Some have very popular accounts on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok, and have a very strong aura with young people. Associating them in this project now appears necessary. The goal is not to recruit or indoctrinate, but quite simply to make counter-propaganda, to remind the republican values, and the danger of hate speech held on social networks. “
How is this cell going to work?
The Minister in charge of Citizenship did not give details on the operation and the means put in place by the government to accomplish this mission. “There are specialized units in the UK to fight this kind of online discourse,” explains Romain Pigenel. But there are ultimately few initiatives of this kind that have really worked to date, in an ever-changing digital environment. Several projects have already been attempted, but it is essential to put in the necessary means for this to work. “
Marlène Schiappa did refer to examples in England and Germany “from which we could draw inspiration”. But many are wondering, even within the government, about the functioning of this new cell. Asked Sunday about France Info on the proposal of Marlène Schiappa, the Secretary of State for Digital, Cédric O, admitted that he did not “know exactly” what it was. “If it is a question of making counter-propaganda, I am not sure that this is the right proposition […]. If it is a question of adapting an institutional discourse to platforms that are less so, then I think that it can be interesting. It all depends on what it is, what its function is, ”he said.
When will it be implemented?
“The first recruitments must take place in the coming days”, confided the entourage of Marlène Schiappa to the Sunday newspaper. This unity of Republican counter-discourse could therefore be effective by the end of the year.