Why and how TikTok was blocked in New Caledonia

Gabriel Attal announced, Wednesday May 15 in the evening in Paris, that the high commissioner on the French Pacific territory, Louis Le Franc, had “banned TikTok” on the entire island, in addition to a series measures aimed at restoring order, including the deployment of soldiers to protect strategic sites

Why and how TikTok was blocked in New Caledonia

Gabriel Attal announced, Wednesday May 15 in the evening in Paris, that the high commissioner on the French Pacific territory, Louis Le Franc, had “banned TikTok” on the entire island, in addition to a series measures aimed at restoring order, including the deployment of soldiers to protect strategic sites.

Neither Mr. Attal nor Mr. Le Franc specified why TikTok was targeted in particular. However, according to messages from local government officials posted by New Caledonian Internet users on Facebook, the application was targeted because “messages of hatred and calls for violence circulate” there. For three days, New Caledonia has been the scene of intense clashes, which left four people dead, including a gendarme, while Kanak separatists oppose a contested reform of the local electoral body.

This blockage is made possible by the establishment of the state of emergency on Wednesday evening (Paris time). This temporary system allows the State to take exceptional measures and limit certain public freedoms to deal with a particularly serious situation. In particular, it allows the Prime Minister to request, on the territory, the blocking of an online public communication service “provoking the commission of acts of terrorism or advocating them”.

The authorities have other legal means at their disposal to block applications or websites in the territory, but the state of emergency offers the quickest regime in this area. Administrative blocking of terrorist or child pornography sites, for example, requires a delay of at least twenty-four hours.

The method mainly used by the French authorities to block access to a site or application is based on the use of the domain name system (domain name system, in English, or DNS), the referral system which returns a Internet user to the correct server when trying to access a domain name. Each operator has its own registry which matches Tiktok.com to the address of the social network's servers. In the case of a blockage, the authorities ask operators to “lie” their DNS and send Internet users to an incorrect address.

This very simple method works both for browsing on a computer and for the TikTok application, which needs to communicate with the social network's servers to update your news feed and load videos. It is nevertheless considered fragile because it can be bypassed both on a computer and on a smartphone, where it is possible to change your DNS so as not to use those of your operator or access provider.

According to testimonies published online from residents of the island, only the TikTok mobile application is affected by the blockage, which the Prime Minister's office confirms to BFM-TV. New Caledonia's mobile telephone infrastructure is, in fact, entirely managed by a single operator, Mobilis, which belongs to the New Caledonia Post and Telecommunications Office. Which makes a generalized blockage much simpler and quicker to put in place than if the measure had concerned the metropolis and its multitude of operators.

No. In France, and more broadly in the European Union, this seems to be a first. In the summer of 2023, during the riots which affected many cities in mainland France, Emmanuel Macron mentioned the idea of ​​“cutting off social networks” when “things get out of hand”. The Ministry of the Interior had particularly pointed out the “map” functionality of Snapchat, believing that this tool displaying in real time the places where large quantities of messages are published could have played a role in wild gatherings, which has not been proven.

Contacted, TikTok has so far not reacted to this blockage. The measure was criticized, on other social networks, by supporters of Caledonian separatists, human rights activists who see it as a repressive measure, but also personalities from the decolonial and pro-Russian movements. The majority deputy Eric Bothorel (Renaissance) publicly questioned on Wednesday whether this measure could be “[counterproductive] by contributing to fueling the narrative of those who seek to harm us by designating the French state as liberticide.”