the prefecture of Ardèche was cut off by the prosecutor on Twitter

What freedom can an institutional actor give himself in social networks, when it comes to discussing legal cases? A short exchange on Twitter between the prefecture of Ardèche and the public prosecutor of Privas on January 29 opens an important debate. The first of several lines accepted the arrest and conviction of a thief in Aubenas; the second is broken in a lapidary: ” Is it up to you to talk? “, thus raising the question of the separation of powers and the tendency of institutions to use social networks to praise the work of their staff. A few hours later, the prefecture deleted his tweet.

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 the rumors emerging on the Internet, and give the image of a united police and justice, believes Yann-Maël Larher, criminal lawyer and expert in digital transformation and social networks.

Marianne: Did the Ardèche prefecture exceed its duty by instigating the arrest of a man, his immediate appearance conviction and his six-month prison sentence? Does the Twitter post violate the separation of powers?

Yann-Mael Larher:Often, a prefecture is content to withdraw penalties incurred in the event of an arrest. It is a matter of use. Usually, the prosecutor negotiates the proceedings. The prefect embodies order and security, so the second part of the tweet – where he mentions belief – is beyond his ability. He came out of his nature. However, it is not illegal to communicate in this case. The decision was passed so the prefecture has the right to report legal and field action. I was not shocked by the message itself, especially not mentioning the convict. There was no immediate harm to him. The prefect represents the forces of order and he wants to show that the staff are doing their job properly, that order has been restored. He broadcasts a narrative where justice applies.

“Usually, a prefecture is content to recall the penalties incurred in the event of an arrest. It is a matter of usage. The prosecutor negotiates the proceedings. »

People are sensitive and easily irritated by court cases, including at the local level. Thus, a positive message in the eyes of the public can balance the image they have of the police and justice. We usually focus on what is wrong with both. Instead it is a good thing to talk about resolved matters. To tweet is to show that we are working, by responding to residents, to local journalists. However, care must be taken when one is a prefect and the other delivers judicial information. Even after an immediate appearance, the defendant can appeal. In my opinion, the prefecture should have mentioned this possibility of appeal in its message.

What should be thought of the public response of the public prosecutor of Privas, when a private response is possible?

It is surprising, even embarrassing, that the prosecutor responded publicly. There are two hypotheses: either answer shows a lack of mastery of the codes of social networks. It is not completely impossible because the person taking care of the account can react immediately, by writing this little comment without thinking about the consequences. Or else, the response is voluntary. In this case, it indicates the existence of conflict between the judicial authority and the forces of order. Then there is a dissonance in terms of communication. Their communications are not aligned.

The story should have been fixed behind the scenes and not in public. The prosecutor’s message may suggest that there is competition between the police authorities and the judicial authorities. The latter seems to be formally incompatible. However, even with the separation of powers, there is only one State and these two bodies represent it.

In your opinion, these virtual speeches of institutional actors reflect a global communication strategy?

There is always communication from these actors but, in the past, we have seen prosecutors on television. They favored the mainstream media. When Twitter appeared, an excerpt from the appearance of a prefect in the newspaper at 1 pm From now on, institutional players will make a specific tweet, to promote police action, for example. They use all the capacity of the networks at their disposal, especially Twitter because it is an instant social network.

In social networks, it is easy to create a buzz in court cases. Don’t institutional actors run the risk of getting caught up in the twitterization of society?

Today, everyone is looking for information on social networks. And there is, at the same time, a real public expectation of a police and justice system that works quickly and efficiently. However, institutions have been slow to go to networks. Previously, the external communication of administrations was locked because they were very hierarchical organizations. Communication methods had to be invented to adapt to the temporality of networks.

“It is necessary that institutions are now present on social networks to provide verified and verifiable information. »

In my opinion, it is necessary that institutions are now present on social networks to provide verified and verifiable information. It is helpful that they respond or speak up to avoid overbidding. If people don’t have information, it’s open to gossip. And that goes beyond the legal framework. For example, during the Covid era, we still had little official information, which created distrust and a movement of panic. Another example: when there is a police operation on a street, with the potential of an arrest. Before, no one knew except the neighbors. Now, all of France can be informed. When a neighborhood is cordoned off, many people turn to social networks. Again, by talking, the police quelled any gossip or anger. This communication can restore a contract of trust with people, it compensates for all the negative noise sent by social networks.

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