Why online anonymity has nothing to do with Samuel Paty’s terrible assassination


Three days after the terrible assassination of Samuel Paty, professor of history and geography beheaded Friday, October 16 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Yvelines), the monstrous cliché shared on Twitter by his alleged attacker continues to circulate on the platform, relayed by clearly identified accounts.

At the same time, the video shared at the beginning of October is exchanged in quantity by the one who presents himself as the father of a pupil of the attacked teacher, whom he then designates as ” a thug », After his course on freedom of expression and the presentation of caricatures of Muhammad from« Charlie Hebdo ». A video widely relayed on Facebook and WhatsApp, which alone is more akin to defamation (reason for which Mr. Paty had filed a complaint) than “The fatwa” mentioned by the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin. The author, still in police custody, had nevertheless shared this footage under his name and even giving his cell phone number.

What we know about Brahim C., the parent of a student who “launched a fatwa” against Samuel Paty

In these two parts of the drama, no one is anonymous. Still, it didn’t take long before some took the opportunity to claim “The end of anonymity on the internet”.

The catchphrase of anonymity

Xavier Bertrand, president (ex-LR) of the Hauts-de-France region, first this Sunday on RTL: “The anonymity for those who advocate terrorism on social networks must be lifted much faster. And you have a very simple way to do it: you open an account, you give your identity – just to the host. Like that, if there are threats and apology for terrorism, we will not take that long to close the account, to condemn and prosecute. Social networks are a place of impunity. “ Verse taken this Monday on Public Senate by Valérie Pécresse, president (ex-LR) of the Ile-de-France region:

I wonder if we should not finally obtain the lifting of anonymity on social networks […]. It’s amazing that on condition of anonymity, we can do anything on the networks. There is a network police to put in place.

During the rally in tribute to Samuel Paty, on October 18, 2020, in Paris. (BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

The former ministers thus resume a will of Emmanuel Macron, formulated in early 2019, to go “Towards a gradual lifting of all forms of anonymity” on internet platforms – the Head of State pointed to a “Anonymity become problematic” who would leave unpunished “Torrents of hate dumped online”.

Castex attacks anonymity on social networks which reminds him of “the Vichy regime”

Anonymity on the internet does not exist

While there is no question of contesting the presence of (very) many hate messages published in particular on social networks, the problem has nothing to do with anonymity. For a simple reason: “It is impossible to be anonymous online”, according to the observation shared with us by Jean-Paul Pinte, lecturer at the Catholic University of Lille and specialist in internet data mining.

Today, when we browse the Internet, we leave traces of our digital DNA everywhere. Our research, our I like, our purchases… all these elements are linked to our digital identity.

Same formula for Stéphane Bortzmeyer, internet specialist and author of “Cyberstructure: The Internet, a political space” (C & F Editions, 2018): “Twenty years ago, you could buy a book or read a newspaper anonymously. Today, on the internet, this is no longer possible. Whatever we do, we always leave digital traces. There are tools – like Tor, proxies, VPNs – that are complex to use, but they don’t make us completely anonymous. “

A striking example: in 2012, the FBI located and arrested the leader of a group of hackers (in particular behind the hacks of the US Senate, Fox and PBS TV channels and video game manufacturers Nintendo and Sony) , even though he best camouflaged all his internet connection identifiers (the IP address). However, one night, and only one, he forgot to activate his screen (proxy). Even the most seasoned make mistakes …

It should be noted that the politicians systematically criticize “anonymity” – the fact of being anonymous – but never “pseudonymity” – opting for a pseudonym, the identity remaining accessible to the authorities, ie the practice of social networks.

The desirability of an online hate law

Especially since in the vast majority of legal cases in which social network publications are implicated, finding the identity of the author is easy. “There are so many traces that identifying an individual is rarely a problem”, confirmed Jean-Baptiste Soufron, lawyer and former secretary general of the National Digital Council.

We are much more anonymous in the street! The important thing is [plutôt] to put the victims back at the center of the debate.

Hence the shift operated by the majority, which did not tackle anonymity but rather hatred online, through a bill brought by MP Laetita Avia. A text finally censored in large part by the Constitutional Council, in particular its flagship idea of ​​removing the content within 24 hours “Obviously” illegal. Since then, as announced to “l’Obs” in June, the MP has worked on a new version (of which she must again be rapporteur to the Assembly).

Laetitia Avia: “There will be a new hate content moderation system”

His schedule, however, accelerated with the speech of Emmanuel Macron in early October at Mureaux on separatism – Radical Islamism is the heart of the matter, said the Head of State – with the perspective of a law expected for December 9 in the Council of Ministers. After the Conflans-Sainte-Honorine attack, the president validated Sunday during the Defense Council the idea of ​​the new text by Laetita Avia, which should thus integrate this bill on separatism. In the meantime, the deputy is active in setting up the new proposals with the Ministries of the Interior and of the Digital, insisting to the “Parisian” on the fact that “This tragedy proves that regulating social networks is necessary”.

Macron wants to toughen the bill against radical Islam: “fear will change sides”

At the same time, the Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship, Marlène Schiappa, gathered in Nanterre the bosses of the police and the gendarmerie to study new measures against “Cyberislamism”. But, ultimately, no trace of measures related to anonymity.



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