How did we get here ? This is the thorny question that the new documentary in the series tackles the factory of lies of France 2, broadcast this Sunday on France 5, about the terrorist attack which claimed the life of Samuel Paty. A gear where the internet and social networks have a preponderant role, both through their failures and because they were a formidable sounding board for a controversy and lies that led to the death of a man.
How Facebook and social networks have been powerless to play their indispensable role, yet denied by the platforms, in preventing the worst from happening. How could the lies of a student and her father be recovered and amplified by radical Islamist agitators? How, too, the security services failed to play their role and protect Samuel Paty?
To answer these crucial questions, this documentary is first of all a cold and precise chronology of the chain of events that led to the attack in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on October 16 2020. A fine analysis of the context, too, which weighed in this affair. And an inventory, finally, of these flaws which did not make it possible to stop the relentless terrorist enterprise of a man, almost a kid, whose signs of radicalization and the desire to take action are however evident in hindsight.
Relying in particular on revelations from Release, exclusive procedural elements and a solid panel of experts, this documentary shows Twitter’s lack of reaction to signs of radicalization by terrorist Abdullakh Anzorov. But also Instagram, which allowed calls for the murder of a propagandist from the Syrian jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Cham to flourish. While Facebook saw no concern with the flow of virulent messages which flourished in parallel, nor with those revealing the identity of the professor and the address of his college. Three networks, three protagonists but trajectories that ended up coming together to lead to the death of Samuel Paty.
Far-right propaganda and disinformation, also thriving online, illustrate the second part of the documentary. On confidential platforms reputed to be “garbage cans of the web” (the nickname of a forum popular with supremacists), but also on the bridgeheads such as Facebook and YouTube. The far-right terrorist Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 faithful Muslims of the two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand on March 15, 2019, was drinking racist and conspiratorial videos arguing for an alleged “white genocide”.
A man who also mastered the web and its codes, and who always knew how to navigate under the radar despite extreme radicalism. And, if he was forged with algorithms exposing him to ever more hatred, Tarrant did not really cross the course of violence until the end of his experience of the “real”. He thus traveled the world in search of evidence of this “great replacement” in which he firmly believed, this conspiracy theory brought up to date by the French far-right writer. Renaud Camus.
The rest is known: he goes to New Zealand, buys a lot of weapons and looks for a target. But above all, he thinks his act for social networks and films himself when he massacres innocents with automatic weapons. A video that will remain online for long minutes before being deleted. Too late. Already, Internet users were relaying it and Facebook was powerless to stem this tide. “The worst failure in the history of moderation”, highlights the documentary by Guillaume Auda and Etienne Mélou. Too bad that the question of the consequences of this failure, which helped to build the image of a model to follow in some minds, is not addressed. Because in the months that followed, in Escondido and Poway (California), in El Paso (Texas) or even in Halle-sur-Saale (Germany), others took action using the same procedure or by making explicit reference to the crimes of Breton Tarrant.