The Council of State “does not suspend the blocking” of the social network TikTok in New Caledonia, according to a press release published Thursday May 23. The latter was decided on May 15 by the government, which highlights the role that the platform would play in the violence that has affected the archipelago for ten days.

The Human Rights League, Quadrature du Net and three residents of New Caledonia filed an appeal for interim relief on May 17, considering that this blocking seriously undermined the freedoms of communication and information. The government justified this exceptional measure, a first on French territory, by the fact that the rioters would have used the social network to “broadcast violent videos which provoke the excitement of the population”. Conversely, the associations considered that the authorities had not provided proof of a “concrete link” between the use of TikTok and the violence.

Unable to resort to the law of April 3, 1955 relating to the state of emergency, which only allows the blocking of a site or network in the event of provocation “to the commission of acts of terrorism or in making the apology”, the government based itself on the “theory of exceptional circumstances”, jurisprudence allowing the administration to free itself from the law in times of crisis, the use of which was validated by the Council of State during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unproven urgency

In its decision published Thursday, the Council of State considered that “the applicants (…) do not provide any evidence justifying urgency”, that is to say “immediate and concrete consequences on the situation of the applicants and on their interests”.

“The summary judge notes, however, that the measure of suspension of the social network in question is limited, all other means of communication and information not being affected, and temporary, the government having undertaken to immediately lift this blockage as soon as the unrest has ceased,” writes the highest French administrative court. This decision therefore does not definitively resolve the question of the legality of the blockage, other complaints, outside of the emergency procedure, may be filed.

TikTok had also contested this measure publicly, without going to court. The company regretted, on May 16, “that an administrative decision to suspend [its] service was taken on the territory of New Caledonia, without any request or question, nor request for withdrawal of content, from the from local authorities or the French government.”