As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took to Twitter on Friday, calling on people to take to the streets to show their support for his embattled government, the incisive role of social media in covering – and even influencing – dramatic unfolding events have never been stronger, or more polemical.
As France picks up the pieces from the Nice attack, tensions between social and “smart” media, and even political and police authorities have never been stronger.
At stake in Europe is a battle between established smart media and authorities on one hand and new social media on the other about who really controls the news narrative.
Scepticism which has built and built in Europe over its ruling classes has now crossed over to the media. The idea of news coverage being a simple battle between leading TV outlets looks like a thing of the irremediable past.
Social media users in France launched a hash-tag Thursday night #CSAcoupeztout in protest at French TV channels’ in-your-face coverage of the carnage on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais as a lorry ploughed into a Bastille Day crowd killing 84 people.
TV news reports included slow-motion replays of deaths by channels LCI and pubcaster France 2, and an interview by France 2 of man standing in front of his wife’s corpse. France 2 apologised on Friday and now faces a possible sanction from France’s Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisual, its media watchdog.
“It’s the first time we’ve been appealed to in this way,” a CSA spokesperson told French financial daily Les Echos.
Meanwhile, French police and civil authorities fought a running online battle with internet users over false social media rumours. France’s Ministry of the Interior countered via a tweet numerous Twitter reports that hostages had been taken in the Nice attack.
Further tweets showed the Eiffel Tower surrounded by swathes of black smoke. The Paris Prefecture had to tweet an explanation that a lorry had caught fire in the vicinity. The city of Cannes also tweet a denial of a terrorist attack in the French town.
France’s government has gone as far as to publish a caution on its website urging social media users to “Be responsible!”
The campaign runs: “Only spread official and reliable information. Avoid spreading rumours. The spreading of false information can threaten the smooth deployment of rescue teams and put you and your near-ones at additional risk.”
Meanwhile, French social media boiled in ire as a few users posted false, even doctored, images of suspects or of relatives who had supposedly disappeared. One was of a supposed victim, “Robert,” with a photo of a smiling young man, and an appeal by Elliot: “I’m looking for my brother. His name is Robert and I can’t find him.”
The plea prompted 2,174 retweets, most pointing out that the same photo of the man had already been tweeted after the EgyptAir crash, the Orlando Pulse shooting and Istanbul’s airport attack. The man is really a Mexican who owes ex-friends money, the U.K.’s Mail Online claimed earlier this month.