The prefecture of Ardèche was interrupted by the prosecutor on Twitter
When it comes to discussing legal cases, what freedom can an institutional actor give himself in social networks? More broadly, the immediacy of information has prompted these institutional players to adapt their communication methods not only to flatter their troops, but also to reassure the population, counter internet rumors, and project a unified police and policing image. believes Yann-Maël Larher, justice, criminal lawyer and expert on digital transformation and social networks.
Marianne: Did the prefecture of Ardèche overstep its role by instigating the arrest of a man, his immediate trial and six-month prison sentence? Is this Twitter post against the separation of powers?
Yann-Mael Larher:Most of the time, the prefecture is content with mentioning the punishments served during the imprisonment. It’s a matter of usage. As a rule, it is the prosecutor who gives information about the process. The prefect personifies order and security, so the second part of the tweet – where he mentions the conviction – goes beyond his abilities. It came out of its natural attributes. However, it is not illegal to be contacted about this matter. The decision has been made, so the prefecture has the right to report legal and field activities. The message itself did not surprise me, especially since the name of the convict was not mentioned. There is no immediate harm to him. The prefect represented the disciplinary forces, and he wanted to show that the cadres had done their job well and that order had been restored. It broadcasts a narrative where there is justice.
“In most cases, the prefecture is satisfied with reminding the punishments served during the arrest. It’s a matter of usage. It is the prosecutor who gives information about the process. »
People are sensitive and easily irritated in court cases, including at the local level. Thus, a positive message in the eyes of the public can balance their image of police and justice. We usually focus on what is wrong with both. Communicating about resolved issues is even better. Tweeting, addressing residents, local journalists, showing that we are working. Nevertheless, precautions should be taken when being a prefect and passing on court information. Even after an immediate appearance, the defendant may file an appeal. In my opinion, the prefecture should have mentioned the possibility of this appeal in its message.
What to think about the public answer of the public prosecutor of Privas, when a private answer is possible?
It is surprising, even embarrassing, that the prosecutor responded in public. There are two hypotheses: either the answer reveals that social networks have not mastered their codes. It’s not entirely impossible, because the person taking care of the account could have reacted immediately by writing this little comment without thinking about the consequences. Otherwise, the answer is voluntary. In this case, it means that there is a conflict between the judiciary and law enforcement. Then there is dissonance in terms of communication. Their communications are not coordinated.
— William Molinie (@WilliamMolinie) January 29, 2023
The story should have been resolved behind the scenes rather than openly. The prosecutor’s message may suggest that there is competition between the police and the judiciary. The latter seem to make it official that they are not together. But even with the separation of powers, there is only one State and these two institutions represent it.
Do you think these virtual performances of institutional actors reveal a global communication strategy?
There has always been communication from these actors, but in the past we used to see prosecutors on TV. They favored the mainstream media. When Twitter appeared, a fragment of the prefect’s speech was circulated in the 13:00 newspaper. After that, institutional players would, for example, tweet specifically to promote the police action. They take full advantage of the networks available to them, especially Twitter because it is an instant social network.
It’s easy to create buzz on social media with lawsuits. Is there no risk for institutional actors to get caught up in the twittering of society?
Today, everyone is looking for information on social networks. And at the same time, there is a real public expectation of a fast and coherent police and justice system. However, entities cannot access networks. Previously, the external relations of the administrations were closed because they were very hierarchical organizations. Communication methods had to be invented to accommodate the temporality of networks.
“Institutions now need to be on social media to provide verified and verifiable information. »
In my opinion, it is imperative that institutions are now on social media to provide verified and verifiable information. It is helpful to have them react or speak to avoid over-suggestion. If people don’t know, it’s open to rumours. And it goes beyond the legal framework. For example, during the Covid era, we still had little official information, which created a movement of distrust and panic. Another example: when there is a police operation on a street, with potential arrests. Before, no one knew except the neighbors. Today, all of France can be informed. When a neighborhood is under siege, many people take to social media. Still, by keeping in touch, the police quell any rumors or anger. This communication can restore the contract of trust with people, compensating for all the negative noise transmitted by social networks.