French President Emmanuel Macron has a few theories as to why riots have spread across France in the wake of the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old delivery driver: TikTok, Snapchat, and video games, mostly.
The teenager was shot on Tuesday, June 27 in the Paris suburb of Nanterre during a traffic check, according to the Associated Press. Nahel, who has only been identified by his first name, died at the scene, and his untimely death exacerbated rising tensions between French police and the residents of the Nanterre neighborhood and beyond.
Videos shared online over the last few days of riots show police firing tear gas at crowds and protestors lighting cars on fire, burning garbage, and looting. AP reports that as of Friday, 875 arrests were made within the last few days (a third of the arrests for one of these days were reportedly “young people”), with Macron refusing to declare a state of emergency and instead sending 40,000 more officers into the streets.
Macron said that social media networks are playing a “considerable role” in fueling the ongoing unrest, and he pointed to both Snapchat and TikTok as examples. He laid out plans to work with tech companies to remove “the most sensitive content” shared, saying that he expects “a spirit of responsibility from these platforms.” And French police are reportedly looking into the identities of those who post rallying cries to continue the protests on social media.
“Violence has devastating consequences, and we have zero tolerance for content that promotes or incites hatred or violent behavior on any part of Snapchat,” a Snapchat spokesperson told AP. “We proactively moderate this type of content and when we find it, we remove it and take appropriate action. We do allow content that is factually reporting on the situation.”
But Macron doesn’t just think it’s those dang phone apps that are to blame for the ongoing protests—he also turned his attention towards video games. “We sometimes have the feeling that some of them are living out, in the streets, the video games that have intoxicated them,” he said. It’s not, of course, police brutality, an increase in housing and income inequality, or the fact that race policy in France is just “be colorblind.” (Nahel was Arab.)
Protests centered around police brutality are not new in France: Citizens protested the 2020 police killing of George Floyd en masse, and in 2005, riots broke out after two young boys died while running away from police in the Clichy-sous-Bois commune in Paris. During the 2005 riots, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin declared a state of emergency.
Using video games as a scapegoat for violence is not new—they’ve been lampooned as the cause of mass shootings since the 1999 Columbine massacre, and Fox News trotted out the excuse after the 2022 Buffalo, New York mass-shooting. But scientific research does not point to a connection between the two.
As psychologist Dr. Rachel Kowert told Kotaku in June 2022, “We’ve been studying [the connection] for 20 years, and there’s been no consistent findings that would suggest at all that they’re in any way directly linked, whereas we have a whole wealth of research linking, like pure delinquency, and low frustration tolerance, and previous exposure to violence, and all of these things that are very well established in the research as predictors of violent behavior, but we ignore that because those are confusing societal problems.”