Freedom and Control of Expression in the Digital Aftermath of the 2015 Paris Attacks
After the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices were attacked in January 2015, debate and discussion flourished about freedom of expression, in France and abroad. This debate intensified after the Paris attacks of November 13th. At the epicenter is the role of the Internet and free speech. An enormous wave of worldwide indignation expressed itself after both events, including a deluge of hashtag solidarity. But this social media storm eventually revealed cultural, political and social divides inside France, as well as globally. Much like after the 9/11 attacks, France passed laws allowing state surveillance of online communication. At the same time, social media censored posts about the attacks that were considered to be provocative or shocking.
The variety of reactions, including indifference or, on the contrary, the expression of very different points of view – sometimes even surveilled or censored – showed that one hashtag is neither unifying nor a universal view shared by everyone. This event magnified the notion that the digital public sphere is a conflicting arena of not just what is being said (or kept quiet) online but also what the limits are. Undoubtedly, the Internet is the main means of massive public expression for millions. Yet it is still the result of a complex set of power relations established between professional media, amateur content producing communities, which sometimes defend particular interests, as well as corporate intermediaries. The resulting online content embodies rival editorial, political and industrial strategies. Recently, scholars have begun to question the idea of digital participatory democracy in terms of a level playing field.
Sejal Parmar is a discussant at the panel on “online freedom of expression and the law” and a speaker at the plenary session on the “state of online freedom of expression and its stakes”.
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