“Parlez-vous Twitter? Facebook?” Starting this month, French newscasters will find themselves responding, “Non, désolé.” France has banned all news outlets from mentioning the two social networking giants, unless related to a specific story. This action is sparked by a piece of 1992 legislation that restricts promotion of brands on French broadcast in the name of market competition.
What does this mean for the French people? In today’s world, social networking is ubiquitous, with close to 1 billion Facebook users expected by 2012 and a multitude of corporations, small businesses, NGOs, and governments logging in to gain access; social media has become a business tool that France is stifling. Social entrepreneurs and campaigns use these sites to promote their business and spread information. By making them suddenly taboo, France is putting their own people and organizations at risk.
In a government response to the legislation, Christine Kelly, a spokesperson for France's Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA), explains to The Guardian that the bill corrects the “distortion of competition.” France argues for an effort to decrease competition, as it does not have an equivalent to the American social media giants; however, France is hurting French organizations that rely on these outlets.
This hurt hits home to certain groups that capitalize on social media. According to the Associated Press, last week the French assembly voted 293-222 against same-sex marriage, a hot-topic human rights issue across the world. LGBT organizations in France, such as AIDES started by the late Michael Foucalt’s partner, take advantage of Facebook and Twitter’s popularity with over 6,000 Facebook “likes” and 11,000 followers on Twitter. The LGBT community has capitalized on the use of social networking to organize, connect, and discuss; in America, the “It Gets Better Project” is an example of an online media movement that responded to the string of gay suicides earlier this year. The power of this movement emphasizes the capacity of online media. The lack of buzz will make the multitudes of people on Facebook, Twitter, etc., less available to the LGBT French community, therefore making a grassroots campaign difficult. Some small businesses do not even have websites anymore, only using Facebook. These sites are not used to just upload pictures of your friends; they are valuable tools for getting things done.
Beyond organizations, the Arab Spring shows that social networking sites provide serious means of coordination. Posting videos to YouTube and arranging meeting points on Twitter helped the world see the Middle East revolutionizing. That potential is currently being snubbed in the country of wine and cheese, as this disastrous decision will ostracize the country from the modern world. France blacklisting these organizations for the sole reason that they are not French is a giant leap backwards for the “progressive” country. France is transporting itself back in time by rejecting innovation and failing to halt a revolution.
In a globally connected world where economies are inter-dependent, France is creating a disservice by not capitalizing on tools that let people have international reach. Not only is this an economic disadvantage, but also a political and social one that could cripple the potential of social networking sites.
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